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X, .. • \ "^ •'■ ^^ '• 0^'' 

c^-. '\/\. '.'.;'., 

The Medieval Gospel ofNicodemus 

Texts, Intertexts, and Contexts 
in Western Europe 

cne&ievAL & ReMAissAKice 

xexTS & STuDies 

Volume 158 

The Medieval Gospel of Nicodemus 

Texts, Intertexts, and Contexts 
in Western Europe 

edited by 
Zbigniew Izydorczyk 

<T)eDi6V2iL & RCKJAissAMce rexTs & sruDies 

Tempe, Arizona 

© Copyright 1997 
Arizona Board of Regents for Arizona State University 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

The Medieval Gospel of Nicodemus : texts, intertexts, and 

contexts in Western Europe / edited by Zbignievf Izydorczyk. 

p. cm. — (Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies ; v. 158) 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 0-86698-198-5 (alk. paper) 

1. Gospel of Nicodemus — Versions. I. Izydorczyk, Zbigniew 
S., 1956- . II. Series 
BS2860.N6M43 1997 
229'.8— dc21 96-40460 


This book is made to last. 

It is set in Palatino, 

smythe-sewn and printed on acid-free paper 

to library specifications. 

Printed in the United States of America 

Table of Contents 

List of Abbreviations vii 

Preface ix 

Acknowledgements xv 


Nicodemus's Gospel before and beyond the Medieval West 


The Evangelium Nicodemi in the Latin Middle Ages 


The Gospel of Nicodemus in the Vernacular Literature 
of Medieval France 


The Gospel of Nicodemus in Medieval Catalan and 
Occitan Literatures 


The Gospel of Nicodemus in Medieval Italian Literature: 
A Preliminary Assessment 


The Gospel of Nicodemus in Old English and Middle English 

C. w. MARX 207 

The Influence of the Evangelium Nicodemi on Norse Literature: 
A Survey 


The Gospel of Nicodemus in High German Literature 
of the Middle Ages 


The Gospel of Nicodemus in Dutch and Low German 
Literatures of the Middle Ages 


VI Table of Contents 

The Gospel of Nicodemus in Ireland 


The Gospel of Nicodemus in the Literature of Medieval Wales 


Thematic Bibliography of the Acts of Pilate 


Index of Manuscripts 533 

Index of Names, Subjects, and Texts 542 

Contributors 571 

List of Abbreviations 

Bibliographic abbreviations 

AP Acta Pilati, Acts of Pilate 

BHL Socii Bollandiani, Bibliotheca hagiographica Latina antiquae et 

mediae aetatis (Brussels, 1898-99) 
Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 
Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis 
Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 
Cura sanitatis Tiberii 
Descensus Christi ad inferos 

EETS OS Early English Text Society, Original Series 

EETS ES Early English Text Society, Extra Series 
Early English Text Society, Special Series 
Evangelium Nicodemi 
Epistola Pilati ad Claudium 

Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei 
Gospel of Nicodemus 

Carleton Brown and Rossell Hope Robbins, The Index of Mid- 
dle English Verse (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943) 
R. E. Lewis, N. F. Blake, and A. S. G. Edwards, Index of 
Printed Middle English Prose (New York: Garland, 1985) 
Angus Mcintosh, M. L. Samuels, and Michael Benskin, A 
Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English, 4 vols. (Aberdeen: 
Aberdeen University Press, 1986) 
Dat Lyden ende die Passie Ons Heren Jhesu Christi 
Monumenta Germaniae Historica 

Jacques Paul Migne, ed., Patrologiae cursus completus . . . Series 
Graeca . . . , 167 vols. (Paris: Jacques Paul Migne, 1857-76) 
Jacques Paul Migne, ed., Patrologiae cursus completus . . . Series 
Latina . . . , 221 vols. (Paris: Jacques Paul Migne, 1844-64) 
Publications of the Modem Language Association of America 

Ruh, Verfasserlexikon 

Kurt Ruh, ed.. Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters. Verfasser- 
lexikon (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1978- ) 

SN Somnium Neronis 














List of Abbreviations 

STC A. W. Pollard and G. R. Redgrave, A Short-Title Catalogue of 

Books Printed in England, Scotland, and Ireland and of English 
Books Printed Abroad 1475-1640, 2d ed., revised and enlarged 
by W. A. Jackson, F. S. Ferguson, and K. F. Pantzer, 3 vok. 
(London: The Bibliographical Society, 1976-91) 



Bibl. Apost. Vat. 

Bibl. mun. 



Bodl. Lib. 















Det Amamagnaeanske Institut (Amamagnaean Insti- 
tute), Copenhagen 

Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican City 
Biblioth^ue murucipale 
British Library, London 
Biblioth^ue nationale, Paris 
Bodleian Library, Oxford 
Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit, Leiden 
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich 
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge 
Cambridge University Library 
Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Wolfenbiittel 
Hid Islenzka b6kmenntaf61ag (Icelandic Literary 
Society), Reykjavik 
J6n Sigurdsson Collection, Reykjavik 
Landsb6ksafn Islands (National Library), Reykjavik 
Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna 
Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin 
Moimt Sinai', St. Catherine Monastery 
Kungliga Biblioteket (Royal Library), Stockholm 
Riksarkivet (Royal Archive), Stockholm 
Uruversitetsbiblioteket (University Library), Uppsala 


^ t least twice in its fifteen hundred years of history the apocry- 
^—/\ phal Gospel of Nicodemus {GN) has been a victim of its own suc- 
C/ V cess. First, at the close of the Middle Ages, its popularity and 
prestige attracted the censure of church reformers striving to rid Chris- 
tian religion of fancy and superstition. Then, half a millennium later, 
the daunting multiplicity of its medieval versions and manuscripts, 
extant in most European languages, discouraged comprehensive, cross- 
linguistic studies of its literary career in Western Europe. Although the 
past century has shed much light on individual vernacular strands of 
the apocryphon's tradition, it has produced no broadly based overview 
of the GN in all its textual, literary, and linguistic forms. The only gen- 
erally available survey of its Western vernacular trcinslations, adapta- 
tions, and influence remains Richard Wiilcker's 1872 essay Das Evangel- 
ium Nicodemi in der abendlandischen Literatur. Although it has served 
well generations of scholars, this essay is by now sadly out of date: its 
factual information is fragmentary, its bibliographical references are 
outdated and unreliable, and its treatment of various intertextual 
relationships rarely goes beyond the superficial. Based on second- and 
third-hand information, it often frustrates modem expectations of thor- 
oughness and exactitude. That it continues to be used, however, dem- 
onstrates a clear need for a guide to the apocryphon's textucil forms, 
intertextual relationships, and contextual variety in Western Europe. 

In response to that need, the present volume brings together a 
series of essays documenting and exploring the presence of the GN in 
Western literary traditions of the Middle Ages. The essays cover a vast 
territory, both thematically and linguistically, for networks of the apoc- 
ryphon's translations, adaptations, thematic borrowings, and allusions 
extended to most Romance, Germanic, and Celtic vernaculars. Accord- 
ingly, the medieval languages surveyed here include Latin, French, 
Catalan, Occitan, and Italian; English, High German, Ehitch, Low Ger- 
man, and Norse; and Irish, Welsh, and Cornish.^ 

The polyglot nature and vast scope of this undertaking have 

' The GN was also known in Spanish and Portuguese, but for want of con- 
tributors these two vernaculars are not covered in the present volume. 

X Preface 

dictated its collaborative format. The essays collected here, all but two 
commissioned for this volume, have been written by scholars specializ- 
ing in different linguistic and literary traditions. Some have been ac- 
tively involved in the editing of medieval recensions of the apocry- 
phon, others have pursued textual or critical issues arising from it, still 
others have been attracted to it through the study of works it inspired 
or influenced. This diversity of scholarly backgrounds and critical 
interests of the contributors accounts for the diversity of theoretical 
perspectives on and practical approaches to the apocryphon in the 
present volume. However, the substance and character of each essay 
are determined not solely by the author's critical ideology but also, 
and perhaps more fundamentally, by the extent of the GN's presence 
in a particular linguistic tradition and the current state of scholarship 
on it. 

The volume opens with an introduction which summarizes the 
GN, situates it in the context of Pilate apocrypha, and indicates the 
range and character of its Western vernacular traditions. The first 
essay, which I co-wrote with Jean-Daniel Dubois, focuses on the early 
Christian backgrounds of the apocryphon. In it, we survey the wit- 
nesses to its knowledge in Christian antiquity and list aU its ancient 
and non-Western medieval textual traditior\s. In this context, we also 
suggest a possible milieu for the GN's origin and report what is known 
about its early development; we do not, however, offer any definitive 
conclusions, given the inconclusive state of research on the subject. 

My remarks on the Latin GN, usually referred to as the Evangelium 
Nicodemi, provide a backdrop for subsequent discussions of vernacular 
traditions, all directly or ultimately derived from it. In this essay, I 
describe, in a necessarily summary fashion, the main textual types of 
the Latin apocryphon and, emphasizing its open-ended character, iden- 
tify the various appendices which coalesced with it in its medieval 
redactions. Moreover, I explore medieval attitudes towards the apocry- 
phal character of the GN and sketch the extent of its influence on Latin 
theological, devotional, and liturgical discourses of the Middle Ages. 

Discussions of vernacular traditions of the GN begin with Richard 
O'Gorman's essay on the GN in Old French literature, which reveals a 
wealth of material, much of it still unstudied and unedited. In the first 
part of the essay, the author presents an overview of direct translations 
and adaptatior\s of the Latin text: he introduces the three poetic rendi- 
tions of the GN, updates the ii\formation on the texts and manuscripts 
of its "short" and "long" prose versions, and signals the presence of its 
adaptations in several composite works on the Passion. The second 
part focuses on thematic influence of the GN on romance literature (the 
story of Joseph of Arimathea) and on Passion narratives and plays (the 
Harrowing of Hell). O'Gorman's broad outline of the apocryphon's 

Preface XI 

translations and influence urges further research on the Old French tra- 
ditions and identifies several convenient points of departure for future 

In contrast to O'Gorman's wide-angle, panoramic perspective on 
the GN in medieval France, Josep Izquierdo's essay on Catalan and 
Occitan traditions takes a close-up view of two verse and two prose 
works which contain translations of the pseudo-gospel. In his study of 
the Occitan Sens e razos d'una escriptura and the Catalan £ la mira car tot 
era ensems, Izquierdo identifies the poems' relationships to the Latin 
apocryphon and to other sources, and argues that each poem is com- 
positionally unified. The presentation of the two prose adaptations of 
the GN, Lo Genesi (extant in Catalan, Occitan, and Italian) and Gamaliel 
(extant in French, Occitan, and Catalan) highlights the complexity of 
intertextual relations which bind the two and which extend to Sens e 
razos and to the Latin text that stands behind them all. 

At least a dozen manuscripts with Italian translations of the GN 
are extant but, unfortunately, only two have been printed so far. Given 
this sorry state of research on the primary sources, Amilcare A. 
lannucci concentrates on thematic ii\fluence, direct and indirect, of the 
GN on the literature of medieval Italy. In particular, he compares the 
different treatments and transformations of the Descensus Christi ad 
inferos in a variety of laude, devozioni, Passion plays, cantare, and ser- 
mons. The essay culminates in an account of Dante's subtle use of the 
apocryphon as an underlying pattern in portions of the Divine Comedy. 

Unlike many of their Romance counterparts, most Germanic trans- 
lations of the GN have been both extensively studied and edited in the 
twentieth century. C. W. Marx's exposition of the rich Old and Middle 
English traditions is organized around the notion of use as an indicator 
of status and influence. Marx investigates the apocryphon's use by 
examining the nature of manuscripts that contain the various transla- 
tions of the GN, the character of materials compiled in those manu- 
scripts, and the genres of writing most receptive of the GN's influence. 
The changes in Middle English tieatments of the pseudo-gospel he 
relates to the changes in doctrinal, literary, and linguistic climates of 
late medieval England. 

Kirsten Wolf's overview of the GN's influence on Norse literature, 
based on published and manuscript sources, presents the material from 
three linguistic areas: Old Norse-Icelandic, Old Danish, and Old Swed- 
ish. The author focuses on the extant translations of the apocryphon 
into vernacular prose and verse, but she also notes thematic indebt- 
edness to the GN of various religious and secular works. Her expo- 
sition of the translations concentrates on the character of their textual 
transmission, on the translators' treatment of the apocryphon's con- 
tents, and on their stylistic practices vis-a-vis the Latin source. 

xn Preface 

Although the presence of the GN in High German literature has 
been discussed in a number of recent publications, Werner Hoffmann's 
essay proves that the subject has by no means been exhausted. In his 
survey of the numerous verse and prose renditions of the apocryphon, 
Hoffmann pays particular attention to the textual practices of transla- 
tors and vernacular compilers, and, whenever possible, identifies the 
exact Latin and vernacular versions of the GN which served as their 
sources. In its attention to factual detail, the essay provides numerous 
corrections and additions to a recent comprehensive edition of the 
High German translations. An overview of the GN's diffusion in and 
thematic influence on other works, focusing on the ways in which por- 
tior\s of the apocryphon or its motifs have been adapted to new con- 
texts, mostly prose and dramatic passions, completes the exposition. 

A similar approach, with its emphasis on trar\slation and adapta- 
tion techniques and its attention to sources and contexts, informs Hoff- 
marm's study of the GN in Dutch and Low German. Besides presenting 
the extant prose and verse renditions of the pseudo-gospel, this essay 
explores the diffusion of the apocryphal material through devotional 
texts on the Passion, and especially through Dat Lyden ende die Passie 
Ons Heren Jhesu Christi, based on a Middle Dutch GN. 

Although Ann Dooley's search of pre-eleventh-century Irish texts 
has yielded no positive evidence of the GN's influence, and a survey of 
later literature suggests a certain restraint in the use of themes derived 
from the pseudo-gospel, a strong presence of the GN in the Irish tradi- 
tion cannot be denied, given that it was translated into Irish at an early 
date. The extant versions of that translation have been edited and 
treinslated into English in recent years. Dooley's investigation takes 
that recent work as a point of departure and supplements it with a 
discussion of an insufficiently appreciated textual witness. It also 
highlights certain features of the Irish texts of the GN by exanrurung 
and comparing their beginnings, endings, and proper names; review- 
ing additions to the texts; and considering variation among the Irish 

The Welsh traditions of the GN, including three translations and 
an important thematic legacy, are surveyed here by David N. Klausner. 
His operiing conunents on problems with identifying Irish texts of 
Nicodemus's narrative and an exposition of the extant versions pro- 
vide a background for a discussion of the apocryphon's reception in 
Wales. Since textual evidence for direct knowledge of the apocry- 
phon — ^beyond the three translations — is limited, that discussion con- 
centrates on the dissemination in Welsh literature of the Harrowing of 
Hell, a motif highly indebted to the GN and of considerable currency 
in medieval Wales. In an appendix, Klausner signals faint and proba- 
bly indirect reflexes of the GN in the Cornish Ordinalia. 

Preface xm 

Varied as these essays are in format and approach, they all share 
a common subject and common goals. They all identify the surviving 
vernacular versions of the GN, comment on their place in broader liter- 
ary or cultural contexts, and imply areas in need of further research. 
Through ample and detailed bibliographic notes, they also provide 
summaries of research done to date on individual strands of the apoc- 
ryphon's tradition and convenient starting points for future investi- 

The thematic bibliography that concludes the volume is based 
partly on the independent research R^mi Gounelle and I have done 
over the years and partly on the lists of works cited as provided by the 
contributors. It is intended as a guide to research on the GN in all its 
linguistic versior\s, including those mentioned but not discussed in 
detail in this volume. Consequently, its scope is larger than the collec- 
tive scope of the essays presented here. The bibliography is arranged 
primarily according to linguistic traditions; brief expository aimota- 
tions that accompany individual items indicate their nature and focus. 


/-v /^ utting together this volume and seeing it through the publica- 
\1L 1 tion has been a lengthy and arduous process. The project was 
^f^ conceived in 1989, and the bulk of the essays was completed 
" by 1992. Forging those essays into a book would not have been 
possible without the contributors' continued support and patience. I 
should also like to express my gratitude to all those who, over the 
years, took an active interest in this project and assisted me at various 
stages of its execution. My special thanks are owed to Mirostaw Biele- 
wicz, Robert Byrnes, Linwood DeLong, Murray Evans, Remi Gounelle, 
Carol Harvey, Patty Hawkins, Brian Morgcin, John Parry, Brian Turner, 
and, above all, to Marta. This book would have taken much longer to 
prepare if it had not been for the scholarly, institutional, and financial 
assistance of the Association pour I'etude de la litterature apocryphe 
chr^tieime and the University of Winnipeg. 




/^>^he Passion of Jesus — his trial before Pilate, death. Descent into 
V^jf Hell, and Resurrection — has arrested and inspired Christian 
V^ imagination since apostolic times. Before it came to life on medi- 
eval pageants and stages, the Passion was a frequent subject of pious 
narratives. Some of them simply retold the story as found in the four 
gospels, but others, more daring, revised it and embellished it with 
imaginative details. 

1. The Gospel ofNicodemus 

One of the most successful and culturally pregnant among the daring 
narratives was the apocryphon commonly known as the Gospel ofNico- 
demus. In its typical medieval form, this work contained three thematic 
sections: an account of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension; the 
story of Joseph of Arimathea; and a report on Christ's Descent into 
Hell. This does not mean, however, that the apocryphon had a fixed, 
clearly delimited, or stable scope; on the contrary, throughout its long 
history, it thrived as a living, dynamic text, ever evolving and chang- 
ing in content and style. 

1.1. Titles 

Perhaps as a reflex of that djmamic textuality or, maybe, of its chang- 
ing scholarly perceptions, modem appellations for the apocryphon also 
lack stability and consistency. The title Gospel ofNicodemus and its late 
medieval Latin source, Evangelium Nicodemi, usually refer to the full 
version of the work (the accounts of the Passion, Joseph of Arimathea, 
and the Descent). However, some scholars use this title for the first 
two sections of the apocryphon only.^ This practice stems ultimately 

^ Cf. Marek Starowieyski, ed., Apokryfy Nowego Testamentu, vol. 1, Ewangelie 


from Constantinus de Tischendorf's edition, whic±i presented the work 
in two discrete parts, one comprising the Passion and Joseph's story 
(chaps. 1-16) and the other the Descent (chaps. 17-27)} Tischendorf 
himself called the first part Gesta Pilati, and the second Descensus 
Christi ad inferos. The division of the work into the Gesta and the 
Descensus gained much currency and is frequently observed today. The 
early medieval title for both parts, Gesta Salvatoris, occurring in a 
number of codices and medieval book lists, is evoked today only 
rarely.^ Much more common is the title Acts of Pilate (or Acta Pilati), 
derived from patristic sources which refer in Latin to "acta" and in 
Greek to "hypomi\emata" of Pilate.^ The Greek term, which occurs 
also in manuscript titles of the oldest Greek version of the apocryphon, 
translates into Latin as "commentarii" or "acta" and corresponds to 
English "reports," "memorials," or "commentaries." The title Acta 
Pilati is used primarily with reference to the earliest forms of the work 
as well as to the Greek and Eastern versions of what Tischendorf 
called Gesta Pilati (Eastern versions do not transmit the story of the 
Descent); however, it is also used to designate the only Greek recen- 
sion that does include the Descensus. 

These inconsistent titling practices are potentially misleading. To 
avoid confusion and yet to remain within the bounds of scholarly tra- 
dition, this book adopts, whenever feasible, the following usage: the 
title Gospel of Nicodemus (abbreviated GN) refers to the apocryphon 
generically or to the European vernacular translations; Evangelium Nico- 
demi {EN) refers to the Latin texts; Acta Pilati {AP) refers to the earliest 
forms and to Greek and Oriental versions; Gesta Pilati (GP) refers to the 
first two thematic sections of the Latin apocryphon; and Descensus Christi 
ad inferos {DI) refers to the last thematic section of the apocr)^hon. 

1.2, Scope of the apocryphal tradition 

The majority of essays in this volume focus on the reading and writing 

apokryficzne, pt. 2 (Lublin: Towarzystwo Naukowe Katolickiego Uniwersytetu 
Lubelskiego, 1986), 420. [AH bibliographical references are cited in full on their 
first appearance in a particular essay; subsequently, they are cited in abbreviated 

^ Constantinus de Tischendorf, ed., Evangelia apocrypha, 2d rev. ed. (Leipzig: 
H. Mendelssohn, 1876), 333^32. 

' Cf. the subtitle of H. C. Kim's edition of the apocryphon. The Gospel of Nico- 
demus: Gesta Salvatoris, Toronto Medieval Latin Texts, vol. 2 (Toronto: Pontifical 
Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1973). 

* For the former, see the comments on Justin Mcirtyr in the following essay, 
sect. 1.1. The latter is used, for instance, by Eusebius of Caesarea; see ibid., sect. 


of the GN in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. In spite of their 
linguistic range, the essays cover only a portion of the apocryphon's 
entire textual tradition and cultural legacy. 

As the first chapter explains, themes that eventually converged in 
the apocryphon began to coalesce as early as the second century (cf. 
Pilate's correspondence with Rome). The original Greek composition 
may have acquired shape or, perhaps, currency during the controver- 
sies between Christianity and the Roman Empire in the early fourth; 
by the end of that century, its existence is attested in patristic writings. 
The apocryphon began to spread from its Greek font to other Eastern 
languages already in late antiquity or the early Middle Ages, that is, 
before the period of its translations into Western vernaculars. That 
expansion continued throughout and, in some cases, beyond medieval 
times. As a result, textual vestiges of the GN can also be found in 
Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Ethiopic, Syriac, Palestinian Aramaic, Armenian, 
Georgian, and Slavonic. With its focus on the medieval West, this book 
thus deals with a vibrant yet relatively late and geographically limited 
branch of the overall apocryphal tradition. 

1.3. Texts of the Evangelium Nicodemi 

All West European vernacular versions of the GN ultimately derive 
not from the original Greek text but from its Latin translation, which 
can be traced back to the fifth century. During the Middle Ages that 
translation evolved at least three major textual forms, traditionally 
designated as A, B, and C. To judge by the number of extant manu- 
scripts, the most widely diffused was A; B and C had a more limited 
circulation. Hybrid redactions mixing features of the major forms were 
also common, and at least one of them, with features of A and C (the 
Troyes redaction, best preserved in Troyes, Bibliotheque munidpale 
MS. 1636), left a considerable vernacular legacy. 

Typical late medieval Latin versions of the EN included both the 
Gesta and the Descensus. To the latter was often appended the Epistola 
Pilati ad Claudium, which in turn could be followed by the Cura sanitatis 
Tiberii, Vindicta Salvatoris, Somnium Neronis, or some other thematically 
related texts. These additional texts were subsumed by the EN and 
tended to lose their separate identities. Other intertextued practices led 
to the inclusion of the EN, in full or in part, into various compilatory 
compositions, such as the Legenda aurea or the Speculum historiale, and to 
countless minor borrowings from and allusions to it in a wide spectrum 
of religious literature. Before its credibility was seriously challenged 
and eventually destroyed by the Reformation, the Latin apocryphon 
managed to penetrate into a variety of literary, theological, devotional, 
and liturgical discourses. 


1.4. Summary of the Evangelium Nicodemi 

Since the Latin type A of the EN was most common throughout the 
Middle Ages and since it is often used as a point of reference in dis- 
cussions of the apocryphon, it may be useful to simimarize it briefly 
here. The following summary is based on the text preserved in the 
celebrated tenth-century Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 326, fols. llr- 
29v (saec. IX-X), as edited by Kim. 

The apocryphal narrative begins with the arrival before Pilate of 
high priests and scribes of the Jews, who accuse Jesus of calling him- 
self king, of violating the Sabbath, and of trying to dissolve their law. 
At their request, Pilate summons Jesus through a messenger, who, to 
their chagrin, reveres Jesus and spreads his own kerchief for him to 
walk upon. When Jesus finally enters the judgement hall, the imperial 
standards miraculously bow before him, causing another consternation. 
Pilate too grows uneasy, especially after his wife, Procula, sends him 
a message urging him to let Jesus go because she suffered a vision at 
night on his account. But the accusers insist that Jesus must be con- 
demned, claiming, among other things, that he was bom of fornication. 
This charge is categorically denied by twelve righteous Jews who were 
present at the espousals of Joseph and Mary. There follow a conversa- 
tion between Pilate and Jesus (based largely on Jn. 18:30-38), and, after 
Pilate's failed attempts to exculpate Jesus, further accusations. 

Now the Jews charge Jesus with blasphemy, punishable by death, 
yet some among them seem distressed by this course of events. First 
Nicodemus speaks out in Jesus' defense, and then others — including 
the woman with the issue of blood, named Veronica — relate Jesus' 
miracles. Pilate's sympathy is clearly with Jesus, and he offers to 
release him on account of the feast of unleavened bread. The Jews 
choose to free Barabbas instead. Angered by their stubbornness, Pilate 
harangues them, ceremonially washes his hands of guilt, and pro- 
nounces his sentence against Jesus. The account of the Crucifixion 
follows essentially Luke 23. Stripped of his garments, Jesus is crucified 
between two thieves, Dismas and Gestas; his side is pierced with a 
spear by Longinus; and after the conversion of Dismas, Jesus dies amid 
supernatural signs. He is buried by Joseph of Arimathea, who has 
requested his body from the distraught Pilate, wrapped it in clean 
linen, and laid it in his own sepulcher. 

Then the Jews seize Joseph for defending Jesus and throw him into 
prison, thinking to deal with him after the Sabbath; but when they 
reopen his cell, they find it empty. They are still wondering at Joseph's 
disappearance when the guards of the sepulcher arrive and declare 
that they saw an angel announce to some women Jesus' Resurrection; 
the Jews buy their silence with money. However, more witnesses come 


forth: three rabbis arriving from Galilee claim to have seen Jesus teach- 
ing his apostles on the Mount of Olives and then ascending into 
heaven. The Jewish council bribes them, too, and sends them back to 
their home regions. Nevertheless, the Jews remain concerned and, at 
Nicodemus's advice, send out scouts to search for Jesus in the moun- 
tains; the scouts fail to find him but locate Joseph in his home town of 
Arimathea. The leaders of the Jews ask Joseph to come to Jerusalem; 
having complied, Joseph tells them how he was released from prison 
by the risen Christ. The Jews are stupefied and deeply shaken by his 
revelations. One of the Levites suddenly remembers the prophecy of 
Simeon, and they decide to recall the three rabbis who came from 
Galilee. After the three have confirmed the truthfulness of their earlier 
statements, Annas and Caiaphas ponder the assumptions of Enoch, 
Elijah, and Moses and the Ascension of Christ. In response, Joseph tells 
them that not only did Christ rise from the dead but he also raised 
many others, among them the two sons of Simeon, Leucius and Cari- 
nus, who still remain in Arimathea. Finding their graves indeed empty, 
the Jews send for them and behind closed doors adjure them to relate 
the manner of their resurrection. The two brothers ask for paper and 
write down the story of the Harrowing of Hell. 

According to their account, they sat enveloped in the darkness of 
hell, when suddenly bright light pierced the shadows and made the 
patriarchs and prophets rejoice. They began to rehearse their messianic 
prophecies, first Isaiah, then Simeon, and finally John the Baptist. Seth 
recalled what Michael, the angel of the Lord, foretold him about the 
coming of the Savior, when he had gone to paradise to ask for the oil 
of mercy for the dying Adam. While the saints were thus rejoicing, 
Satan called out to Hell to prepare for the reception of Jesus Christ, 
who had boasted that he was the Son of God and whose death he, 
Satan, contrived. But when Hell learned that it was the same Jesus who 
had raised Lazarus from the dead, and when he heard a powerful 
voice demanding entry for the king of glory (Ps. 23:7), he cast Satan 
out of his dwelling and ordered the denizens of hell to bar the gates. 
Amid jubilation, Isaiah and David recited more prophecies; then the 
great voice called out again, and the king of glory came in. Hell, 
Death, and their servants paiucked and filled the imderworld with a 
welter of terrified questions. Treading on Death, the king of glory 
seized Satan and handed him to Hell, who reproached Satan for caus- 
ing Christ's death and their own destruction. Then Jesus extended his 
hand to Adam and made a sign of the cross over him and over all the 
saints, who praised and glorified their Savior. He then led them all out 
of hell and entrusted them to the Archangel Michael, who brought 
them into the glory of the terrestrial paradise. There they met with 
Enoch and Elijah, awaiting the advent of the Antichrist, and with the 


Good Thief, carrying the sign of the cross. Later the two sons of 
Simeon returned to life with a multitude of others, who celebrated the 
Pasch in Jerusalem and were baptized in the river Jordan. 

Having finished, Leucius and Carinus hand their separate accounts 
to the Jews and, transfigured, disappear from sight. Their versions are 
found to be identical to the letter. The Jews leave the synagogue with 
great agitation and fear, and Joseph and Nicodemus bring the news 
about these events to Pilate, who writes everything down and deposits 
his report in the judgement hall. 

Although at first glance the apocryphon may appear purely narra- 
tive, it is in fact profoundly dramatic. Its dominant mode of discourse 
is direct speech, dialogical and polylogical, with narration being 
reserved for brief introductions of speakers and, especially in the 
accounts of the Crucifixion and Joseph's imprisonment, for concise 
summaries of events, so compressed at times as to obscure temporal 
dimensions of events.^ The trial scene in particular shows much theat- 
rical potential, both in its use of direct speech and in its unity of time, 
place, and action. The DI, in spite of being presented as a written 
report, is marked by similar theatricality, fully exploited by medieval 
playwrights. It is not inconceivable that already in its infancy the orig- 
inal Greek Acts was connected with theater or dramatic liturgy, per- 
haps inspiring, perhaps being inspired by them,^ and that the inherent 
dramatic potential of the Acts was subsequently enhanced in the proc- 
ess of its linguistic transformations and growth. 

2. The cycle of Pilate 

Given the absence of concern for textual integrity and definitive textual 
boundaries in manuscript culture, it is hardly surprising that the Gospel 
of Nicodemus provided both a source and a point of gravity for a host 

^ Is it possible that the apocryphon's compression of the forty days before 
Christ's Ascension, remarked on by Felix Scheidweiler, "Nikodemusevangelium. 
Pilatusakten imd Hollenfahrt Christi," in Neutestamentliche Apokryphen in deutscher 
Ubersetzung, vol. 1, Evangelien, 5th ed., ed. WiUielm Schneemelcher (Tubingen: 
J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck]), 396-97, has resulted from this dramatic mode of 
presentation rather than from deliberate theological reflection? 

* Jean-Dcmiel Dubois, "L' Affaire des ^tendards de Pilate dans le premier 
chapitre des Actes de Pilate," in Papers Presented to the Tenth Internatiorml Conference 
on Patristic Studies, Oxford 24-29 August 1987, ed. E. A. Livingstone, Studia 
Pabistica, vol. 19 (Louvain: Peeters Press, 1989), 351-58; and R^mi Gotmelle, 
"Recherches sur les Actes apocryphes de Pilate grecs, recension B," 2 vols. (M^ 
moire pr&ent^ pour I'obtention du Dipldme d'Etudes Approfondies, University 
Paris X-Nanterre, 1991), 1:75-81. 


of minor, often derivative compositions. Known collectively as the 
cycle of Pilate, those texts are quite diverse in form and content, and 
include private and official letters, reports, narratives, and legal pro- 
nouncements. What links them all is the emphasis on the person of 
Pilate, textual and thematic links to the GN, and frequent co-occurrence 
with the GN in manuscripts (in fact, they are sometimes fully integrated 
with it). Most of them were originally written in crude Greek or Latin 
and later translated into various Eastern and Western languages. 

The notion of the cycle of Pilate is rather loose and has never been 
unambiguously defined. There is no absolute agreement as to which 
texts should be included in it and which should not, but there is a gen- 
eral consensus that the cycle constitutes the immediate textual milieu for 
the AP. Since the Pilate cycle will occasionally enter the discussions of 
the apocryphon in this book, it may be worthwhile to mention its main 
texts here. The following list does not, however, aim to be either defini- 
tive or exhaustive, given the fuzziness of the notion and the incomplete 
state of research:^ 

Epistola Pilati ad Claudium: Pilate briefly reports on Christ's miracles, 
death, and Resurrection, blaming the Jews and portraying himself as 
sympathetic to Christianity. It is extant in Greek, Latin, and Syriac as 
well as in medieval vernaculars.® 

Anaphora Pilati: Pilate writes to the emperor concerning the deeds 
and death of Christ and mentions the miracles that attended his Cruci- 
fixion and Resurrection. Composed in Greek possibly in the fifth century, 
it survives in two Greek versions, A and B; version A was translated 
into Syriac, Arabic, Armeruan, and Old Slavonic.^ 

Paradosis Pilati: a continuation of Anaphora A, also of the fifth century, 
containing an account of the arrest and martyrdom of Pilate, presented 
here as a follower of Christ.^" 

Tiberii rescriptum: Tiberius replies angrily to Pilate's letter and con- 
demns him. The work was written in Greek, probably in the fifth century; 
it is also extant in Old Slavonic." 

^ For additional texts that might be considered candidates for the Pilate cyde, 
see my essay on the Latin EN, sects. 1.3.4-1.3.7. 

* Mauritius Geerard, Clavis apocryphorum Novi Testamenti, Corpus Christiano- 
rum. Series Apocryphorum (Tumhout: Brepols, 1992), no. 64; Geerard gives full 
bibliographic references, not repeated here. I discuss this apoayphal letter in my 
essay on the Latin EN, sect. 1.3.1. 

' Geerard, Clavis, nos. 65, 66; Starowieyski, Apokryfy, 463. 

'" Geerard, Clavis, no. 66; Starowieyski, Apokryfy, 466. 

" Geertird, Clavis, no. 65; Starowieyski, Apokryfy, 468. Slavonic versions are 
mentioned by Francis J. Thomson, "Apocrypha Slavica: U," Slavonic and East Euro- 
pean Review 63, no. 1 (1985): 81. 


Epistolae Pilati et Herodis: Pilate confides in Herod that he has been 
justified by Christ, and Herod confesses to Pilate all the misfortunes that 
befell him. This correspondence belongs to the tradition that blames the 
Jews and exculpates Pilate. It was composed in Greek, possibly in the 
fifth century, and survives also in Syriac.^^ 

Epistola Pilati ad Tiberium: Pilate reveals that he sentenced Christ 
partly through his own weakness but partly through his loyalty to the 
emperor. This letter, which again presents Pilate in a positive light, was 
written in Renaissance Latin, probably in the sixteenth century .^^ 

Cura sanitatis Tiberii: Tiberius is miraculously healed by an image of 
Christ, Peter confirms the truth of Pilate's report on Jesus, and Nero 
exiles Pilate, who commits suicide. The work was composed in Latin, 
possibly in northern Italy, between the fifth and the eighth centuries.^^ 

Vindicta Salvatoris: a sequence of two narratives, one about the heal- 
ing of Titus and his destruction of Jerusalem, and the other about the 
condemnation of Pilate and the healing of Tiberius. It was composed in 

Latin, possibly around the beginning of the eighth century in southern 

Mors Pilati: a late medieval retelling, in Latin, of the healing of 
Tiberius and of Pilate's suicide, with additions about Christ's tunic and 
troubles caused by Pilate's corpse.^^ 

Vita Mariae Magdalenae: Mary Magdalene travels to Rome to de- 
nounce Pilate before the emperor. This is probably a medieval Greek 

Encomium in Mariam Magdalenam: a story of Mary Magdalene; the 
extant text deals with her childhood, her part in the paschal and post- 
Resurrection events, and the revelations she received from the Archangel 
Gabriel. This work survives only in Coptic.^^ 

Homilia de lamentis Mariae (Evangelium Gamalielis): Jesus was crucified 
through the conspiracy of Herod and the Jews, and Pilate was a true 
believer in Christ, destined to suffer martyrdom for his faith. The apoc- 
ryphon includes dialogues between Virgin Mary and Jesus at the tomb 

'^ Geerard, Clavis, no. 67; Starowieyski, Apokryfy, 473. 

'^ Geerard, Clavis, no. 68; Starowieyski, Apokryfy, A76. 

" Geerard, Clavis, no. 69; for fuller dicussion, see my essay on the Latin EN, 
sect. 1.3.2. 

'^ Geerard, Clavis, no. 70; for fuller discussion, see my essay on the Latin EN, 
sect. 1.3.3. 

'* Geerard, Clavis, no. 71; Aurelio de Santos Otero, ed., Los evangelios apdcrijbs, 
3d ed., BibUoteca de autores cristianos, vol. 148 (Madrid: La Editorial Catolica, 
1975), 495-96. 

"" Geerard, Clavis, no. 72. 

^* Ibid., no. 73. 


and between Pilate and the resurrected Gcxxl Thief. This work is extant 
in Arabic, Ethiopic, and Coptic.^' 

Homilia de morte Pilati {Martyrium Pilati): for his faith in Jesus, Pilate 
was crucified twice, once by the Jews and then by Tiberius, and, together 
with his wife and two children, he was buried near the sepulcher 
of Jesus. This was composed in Coptic but survives in Arabic and 

Narratio losephi de Arimathea: Joseph's account of the Passion, of the 
Good Thief, and of his own miraculous release from prison mentioned 
in the Gospel of Nicodemus. Originally a Greek composition, it is extant 
also in Old Slavonic.^^ A Georgian version of the Narratio includes an 
account, surviving also in Greek and Latin, of the foundation of the 
church in Lydda and its protection by an image of Mary, Mother of 

De bono latrone: a story of the Good Thief's first encounter with Jesus 
during the flight to Egypt and of his subsequent exile from the house of 
his fatiier, in Latin.^ 

Not listed in the "Cyclus Pilati" section of Geerard's Clavis apocry- 
phorum but included by some in the cycle of Pilate are: 

Narratio de Martha: probably an original Slav compilation based on 
the Anaphora, Paradosis, and Tiberii rescriptum, on the theme of Pilate's 

Sententia Pilati: a post-medieval, sixteenth- or seventeenth-century 
work of Italicin origin, containing many curious chronological and his- 
torical details pertaining to Christ's Passion.^ 

3. Western vernacular traditions 

The first harbinger of the awakening vernacular interest in the GN was 
the Old English prose translation made in the early or mid-eleventh cen- 
tury. It antedates by well over a century the second oldest version, in 
medieval Irish prose, dated to the twelfth or early thirteenth century. 
Although the begiimings of the GN's vernacular career were thus con- 
nected with prose, it was the medium of poetry that sustained the initial 

'' Ibid., no. 74. 

^ Ibid., no. 75. 

^' Ibid., no. 76; Starowieyski, Apokryfy, 487-88. 

" Geerard, Clavis, no. 77. 

" Ibid., no. 78. 

^* Thomson, "Apocrypha Slavica," 81. 

" Santos Otero, Los evangelios, 532-35. 


surge of its popularity in the thirteenth century. To that period belong 
the Old French translations by Andre de Coutances, by one Chretien, 
and by an anonymous poet; the Occitan Sens e razos d'una escriptura; the 
Old Norse Nidrstigningarsaga; the High German Urstende by Konrad von 
Heimesfurt and the Christi Hort by Gundacker von Judenburg. In the 
fourteenth century, new poetic adaptations of the GN continued to be 
produced (the Catalan £ la mira car tot era ensems, the Middle English 
Cursor mundi and Stanzaic Gospel of Nicodemus, the Old Danish poetic 
GN, the High German trar\slation by Heinrich von Hesler), but the 
emphasis shifted to prose, which soon became the primary medium for 
vernacular translations. As a result of that shift, the extant prose versions 
of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries far outnumber the poetic ones. 
In medieval French, for example, we have at least three "short" prose 
translations, an expanded "long" version, and one partial text; in Occi- 
tan, we have Gamaliel; in Catalan, Lo Ghnesi; in Italian, apparently several 
versions, only two of which have been printed; in Middle English, at 
least six; one in Old Swedish; twelve in High German; one in Low 
German; four in Dutch; three in Irish; and three in Welsh. 

3.1. Immediate sources 

The immediate sources of these verse and prose translations of the GN 
were twofold, Latin and vernacular. Most frequently exploited was Latin 
text-type A, which was rendered — in full or in part — into practically 
every Western vernacular. Adaptations of EN B are much less common 
and seem to have been diffused primarily in Romance languages. The 
Occitan Sens e razos d'una escriptura translates the entire B version and is 
itself the source of Gamaliel, through which version B spread to French 
and Catalan. The Catalan Lo Ghiesi, which translates chapters 12-27 of 
EN B, was made available also in Occitan and Italian. Irish, Welsh, Old 
Norse, Middle Dutch, and Middle English translators did not use this 
Latin version. In Middle High German, a mixed redaction combining 
Gesta B and Descensus A was used by Konrad von Heimesfurt, and a 
similar Latin text stands behind a prose translation from Bavaria (trans- 
lation G). Another prose version (translation K), from Eastern Central 
Germany, although based principally on A, shows a number of interpo- 
lations from B. However, the two High German prose texts (i.e., G and 
K) survive in unique manuscripts and left no important legacy; thus 
only Konrad's poetic rendition spread B variants outside the Romance 
vernaculars. The third Latin version to produce vernacular adaptations 
was the Troyes redaction, a mixture of EN A and C. It lies behind one 
"short" French version (to which two English texts, MS. Harley 149 and 
the first printed edition, are indebted), the Middle English Stanzaic Gospel 
ofNicodemus, Dutch and Low German prose versions (translations D and 

Introduction 11 

L), the High German editio princqjs, and possibly the Catalan £ la mira 
car tot era ensems. Such wide diffusion of translations of the Troyes 
redaction is rather unexpected, given that it survives in fewer manu- 
scripts than EN B. 

Not all vernacular reflexes of the apocryphon were derived directly 
from the Latin Evangelium Nicodemi. Some originated in Latin digests or 
summaries of the apocryphon, especially those in the Speculum historiale 
or the Legenda aurea. The French text in Paris, Bibliotheque nationale MS. 
f. fr. 15219, for example, is based on the former, while the English Stan- 
zaic Life of Christ is derived from the latter. Since \he Speculum and the 
Legenda were also available in many medieval translations (not fully dis- 
cussed in this volume), they must have played an important role in the 
diffusion of the Nicodemean material. 

Vernacular versions of the GN could tihemselves serve as sources for 
translations and adaptations, for the apocryphon traveled easily across 
vernacular boundaries. The so-called French "long" version of the GN 
was rendered from Ocdtan, as was the corresponding Catalan version; 
the Catalan Lo Genesi gave rise to the Ocdtan and Italian renditions; 
several English texts, including two prose versions and the sequence of 
the Complaint of Our Lady and the GN, are indebted to French; and there 
was some movement from EHitch (translation D) to High German 
(Rhenish Franconian), from Low Gennan (translation L) to Dutch (Lim- 
burg, Ripuarian), and from High German (translation E) to Low. 

Finally, some versions originated not through translation but 
through quarrying and recycling earlier versions in the same vemaculcir. 
This process can be seen at work in the Ocdtan Gamaliel, which exploits 
Sens e razos d'una escriptura; in Heinrich von Miinchen's Weltchronik, 
which draws on three earlier High German verse translations; and in a 
High German prose translation (E), which borrows from the Urstende. 

3.2. Translators 

The translators/authors of these vernacular Gospels cfNicodemus are for 
the most part unknown. Poetic versions are more likely than prose texts 
to be associated with a particular name (even if we know nothing about 
the person who went by it). Andre de Coutances, one Chr^en, Konrad 
von Heimesfurt, Gundacker von Judenburg, Heinrich von Hesler, 
Heinrich von Miinchen, Jan van Boendale — all are connected with verse 
renditions of the apocryphon. In contrast, only two of some three dozen 
prose translations are assodated with specific translators, the Middle 
English version ascribed to John Trevisa and the Welsh version B trans- 
lated by Dafydd Fychan. 


3.3. Attitudes towards the Gospel of Nicodemus 

Latin scribes and redactors of the Evangelium Nicodemi were well aware 
that it was not a true gospel, and occasionally they even appended to it 
notes labeling it as an apocryphon. That awareness did not prevent 
them, however, from adapting and using it in a variety of religious dis- 
courses. The respect for it is evident in the occasional comments about 
its trustworthiness and value as a witness to the events not recorded in 
the gospels. In some cases, its appreciation seems to have verged on 
veneration, as, for instance, when it was copied in the midst of the New 
Testament as if it belonged to it. Yet in spite of such manifestations of 
high esteem for it, the EN was not generally considered a divinely 
inspired text and did not rival the spiritual authority of the canonical 

Vernacular translators and authors display a similar range of atti- 
tudes. The Occitan author of Sens e razos d'una escriptura relies on John 
21:25 to account for the fact that the GN reports events not mentioned in 
John or Matthew; a similar comment occurs in the High German version 
incorporated into the Klostemeuburger Evangelienwerk. The Old Norse 
translator of the Nidrstigningarsaga explains at the beginning of his work 
that his source, the GN, contains nothing dubious, even though it is not 
as prominent as other holy texts. Others appeal to the GN's value as a 
historical record. They point out that Nicodemus, well acquainted both 
with Jewish leaders and with Jesus, was present at the trial; his report is 
trustworthy because he personally witnessed the events he describes. 
Remarks to this effect occur also in Gundacker von Judenburg and in 
Heinrich von Hesler. 

Several vernacular versions are closely associated with the canonical 
texts in some of their manuscripts. The Old English translation in 
Cambridge Uruversity Library MS. li. 2. 11 follows the Old English 
version of the four gospels and might, perhaps, be considered as a fifth 
gospel, were it not for its more subdued manner of presentation; more 
likely, it was intended as a supplement rather than a counterpart to the 
canonical texts. Another version to appear in the context of biblical 
translations is the High German translation A (Augsburger Bibelhand- 
schrift), extant in nine manuscripts. The translator apparently treated the 
apocryphon like other biblical texts, to be changed as little as possible, 
the practice which prompted at least one copyist to add an emphatic 
note that the GN does not belong to the Bible.^^ Although Irish writers 
did not compile the apocryphon with canonical material, the fact that 

^^ For versions mixed with or embedded in canonical narratives, see also 
below, sect. 3.5. 

Introduction 13 

they put it to exegetical uses, as, for example, in the Leabhar Breac 
commentary on the Passion narrative of Matthew, reflects the high re- 
gard for it in the Irish church. 

3.4. Translation practices 

Although some translators, like the one responsible for the High German 
text A, or like Jan van Boendale, who rendered the GN into Ehitch verse, 
followed Latin originals very closely, others took varying degrees of 
license with their sources. They engaged in selectively omitting, adding 
to, rearranging, or altering the text, in order to tailor the apocryphon to 
various contexts and uses. 

The most drastic form of omission resulted from the decision to 
translate only some sections of the apocryphon. The sections usually 
chosen covered the episodes of Joseph of Arimathea and of the Descent 
into Hell (e.g., Andre de Coutances, High German versions F, K) or only 
of the Descent (e.g., NiSrstigningarsaga, Dutch version C). Less frequently 
the focus of the translation was on the Resurrection and the story of 
Joseph (e.g., the Anglo-Norman and Middle English sequences of the 
Complaint and the GN); the account of the trial does not seem to have 
been translated independently of the other sections, probably because of 
its similarity to the gospel accounts. 

On a smaller scale, passages or phrases could be omitted to abridge, 
to eliminate repetition or redundancy, to streamline the plot, or to 
simplify doctrine or style. The redactor of the second version of the GN 
in the Leabhar Breac, for example, considerably condenses the apoc- 
ryphon; the author of the Dutch translation B omits chapter 2, probably 
on dogmatic grounds; the author of the Nidrstigningarsaga deletes doc- 
trinal elements as well as details that are not essential to the movement 
of the story; and a similar desire for clarity cind economy motivates 
Konrad von Heimsefurt's extensive tightening of the narrative. 

Amplifications could range from glosses added to clarify sometimes 
murky Latin phrasing to factual or exegeticed details to longer inter- 
polations reflecting specific preoccupations of the redactors. Simple 
additions of the first type, explicating parts of the text and ensuring its 
clarity (through double translations, for example), were almost a habit of 
mind for most redactors and occur even in those versions which follow 
the Latin closely, such as the Swedish prose GN. Additions of exegetical 
and factual character were likewise common, and we find them fre- 
quently in the Irish, Low German, High German, and Old Norse texts. 
More extensive interpolations could serve a variety of purposes: some 
were used to illustrate specific points of doctrine (cf . the two passages on 
divine duplicity in the Nidrstigningarsaga), others to enhance the didactic 
value of the GN (cf. the creed in the Middle English version in MS. 


Harley 149; comments on the greed of the soldiers guarding the sepul- 
cher in the Cursor mundi), still others to bring it in line with current 
devotional trends (cf. the scenes of flagellation, crowning with thorns, 
and Crucifixion in the Dutch version B) and to increase its dramatic 
effect (cf. the planctus in the Occitan Sens e razos d'una escriptura and 
another in the Catalan £ la mira car tot era ensems). 

Other changes that accompanied the apocryphon's movement from 
Latin to ven\aculars involved transpositions and rearrangements of epi- 
sodes, altering motives for actions, even remodeling entire scenes on ihe 
basis of external sources. All of them can be found, for instance, in 
Konrad von Heimesfurt's Urstende, which treats the apocryphon with 
much freedom, rearranging its structure, increasing the amount of dia- 
logue, and borrowing details from courtly literature. Such extensive 
revisions place certain redactions of the GN at a considerable distance 
from the Latin work and make it difficult to determine whether a 
particular rendition of the Nicodemean material should in fact be con- 
sidered a version of the apocryphon or an independent imaginative 
elaboration of its motifs. 

3.5. Interactions with other texts 

Some medieval redactors made an effort to contextuaUze the story of the 
GN and to relate it explicitly to the overall pattern and meaning of 
events in which it participated, to the whole economy of salvation. They 
accomplished this by framing or extending the apocryphon with addi- 
tional material which projected the GN episodes against the background 
of salvation history as it had unfolded or as it was to unfold in time. 
Thus in the Middle English Cursor mundi, the apocryphon is preceded 
and followed by comments on the significance and nature of the Re- 
demption. The Occitan Sens e razos d'una escriptura creates for the GN an 
anagogical context: the apocryphal narrative is followed by the legend of 
the Antichrist, the signs before Doomsday, and an account of the Last 
Judgement. Similar additions occur also in the Catalan £ la mira car tot 
era ensems, whose rendering of the Descensus is preceded by sectior\s on 
the trial. Passion, death, and burial of Christ, incorporates the story of 
the Antichrist, and concludes with the signs of the Last Judgement. The 
motive behind such adaptatiorw was usually didactic. 

Like their Latin counterparts, vernacular redactions of the GN com- 
bined with other texts rather easily. Many of the appendices which in 
Latin manuscripts frequentiy appear fused with the core text occur also 
in the translated versions, suggesting that the Latin redactors' perception 
of the GN as a quasi-historical record, as an independent confirmation of 
and supplement to the four gospels, was also shared by some vernacular 
readers. Since the various appendices were not evenly distributed across 

Introduction 15 

vernaculars, their presence may be a reflection of the popularity of 
specific Latin redactions in certain parts of Western Europe. We find .the 
largest number of additior\s in German versions: the Epistola Pilati ad 
Claudium, the Pilate-Veronica legend from the Cura sanitatis Tiberii or 
Historia apocrypha of the Legenda aurea, the Somnium Neronis, and the De 
horis canonicis. In contrast, Dutch translations limit themselves to Pilate's 
letter. Other vernacular texts append the Epistola (French, English, 
Welsh), the Cura (French, English), the Vindicta Salvatoris (English), an 
excerpt from Gregory of Tours (English), and a "run" on the joys of 
heaven (Irish). 

Another common intertextual practice involved mixing the apocry- 
phal text with the canorucal narratives. In several High German versions, 
both in verse and in prose, either the canonical text is embedded in the 
apocryphal or the apocryphal in the canonical. Konrad von Heimesfurt, 
for example, draws on ti\e New Testament to provide a framework for 
the apocryphal narrative; the High German translation E both introduces 
and augments the story of the GN with canonical passages (it includes 
also other additions, such as the stories of Mary and Joseph's marriage 
and of the Antichrist, reported by Enoch); Gundacker von Judenburg 
and the Catalan author of Lo Genesi base their accounts of the trial before 
Pilate partiy on the GN and partly on the gospels; Heinrich von Hesler 
explicitiy compares the canonical accounts with the GN; and the Kloster- 
neuburger Evangelienwerk (translation H), which also contains observa- 
tions about the differences between the gospels and the GN, uses the 
apocryphon in a piecemeal fashion, its portions embedded at various 
points in the canonical narrative. That such close association of the GN 
with the canonical material occurs more frequentiy in the German-speak- 
ing areas than elsewhere may be related to the fact that it was in the 
same areas that manuscripts placing the GN in the company of biblical 
texts were most common. 

While its dose association with the New Testament confirms that 
the GN was perceived as almost equal to the evangelical narratives in its 
historical authority, its ties to Passion texts, especially those of affective 
piety, reveal that it was also recogruzed as a potentially powerful stimu- 
lus to devotion. Passion tracts — ^narrative, contemplative, exegetical — 
were the most frequent manuscript environments for the vernacular 
apocryphon. But their relationship with the GN went beyond co-occur- 
rence. One of the English prose versions typically follows the English 
translation of pseudo-Bonaventure's Meditationes vitae Christi. Although 
the apocryphon begins here at chapter 12.1, portions of the earlier 
chapters are embedded into the Meditationes. Similarly, in the Anglo- 
Norman sequence of the Complaint of Our Lady and the Gospel of Nico- 
demus and in its Middle English tianslation, the imprisorunent and 
release of Joseph is incorporated into Mary's narrative, and the text of 


the GN begins where the imprisonment finishes. Finally, in one of the 
manuscripts of the High German translation E, the apocryphon is placed 
in the midst of a massive compilation of texts on the Passion, based 
primarily on Ludolph of Saxony's Vita Christi. 

Although the Latin EN does not frequently occur in legendaries, sev- 
eral versions adapted the apocryphal material to hagiographic contexts. 
For example, the Occitan Gamaliel merged the traditions of Nicodemus, 
Gamaliel, and St. Stephen and effectively refocused the apocryphon, 
which nonetheless served as its backbone. This extensively remodeled 
GN circulated widely not only in Occitarua but also in the Kingdom of 
Aragon and in France (the "long" version of the GN). 

3.6. Diffusion of influence 

The impact of the GN on vernacular literatures extends beyond the 
translations: its fragments are scattered across a variety of works, from 
devotional tracts to didactic narratives to chronicles to drama; its narra- 
tive structures and themes spread even to secular compositions; and 
many of its apocryphal details became part of commonplace Christian 
knowledge, of the medieval Christian lore. 

Vernacular redactions of the GN left an important literary legacy. In 
Middle English, for example, the Stanzaic Gospel of Nicodemus and the 
Stanzaic Life of Christ are known to have directly influenced later texts, 
namely, the drama cycles. In Italian, the devozione from L'Aquila is 
sustained by an abridged Italian translation of EN B. In High German, 
Heiimch von Miinchen's compilation of the earlier verse translations 
was the source of Die Neue Eue, a devotional tract extant in over thirty 
manuscripts, which was in turn excerpted by other authors, such as 
Heiruich von St. Gallen in his treatise Extendit manum; Konrad von 
Heimesfurt's Urstende was used by the author of the Befreiung der Alt- 
vdter and by Hawich der Kellner in his Stephanslegende, while Heinrich 
von Hesler's Evangelium Nicodemi influenced the Weihenstephaner Chronik 
and the Tiroler Passion. And one of the Dutch translations (designated as 
D) was freely adapted in the Passion treatise Dat Lyden ende die Passie 
Ons Heren fhesu Christi, extensively diffused in both manuscripts and 
printed editions. 

The apocryphon spread its influence not only through vernacular 
translations but also through the more widely distributed Latin versions; 
and not only through Latin summaries and excerpts in the Speculum 
historiale, Legenda aurea, Meditationes vitae Christi, and Vita beate Marie 
rhythmica but also through their vernacular translations. Distinguishing 
between the immediate sources of influence is often difficult and at 
times impossible, especially if the allusions to the apocryphon are brief 
or general or subtle. For example, little can be ascertained about the 

Introduction 17 

form in which the apocryphon weis known to Langland or Dante. Occa- 
sionally, however, specific textual details allow us to identify the exact 
source: the High German Passional, merging pseudo-Augustinian "Sermo 
160" with a summary of the Descent, is almost certainly indebted to the 
Legenda aurea. 

Certain details disseminated by the GN were so commonplace in 
most vernacular literatures that their discussion would entail listing hun- 
dreds of texts. The names and stories of Longinus, Veronica, Dismas, 
and Gestas — all introduced and popularized by the pseudo-gospel — 
were known even to those who did not read the GN because, by the late 
Middle Ages, they were part of the general religious milieu. Even certain 
episodes, such as Joseph of Arimathea's Christophany, acquired the 
same commonplace status. 

The story of the Descent into Hell, too, was a locus communis but, 
since it was also alluded to in \he Apostles' Creed, it was elaborated in 
a number of sources besides the GN. Medieval writers could, therefore, 
use several models for their accounts of the event, and not all references 
to and accounts of the Harrowing of Hell are necessarily indebted to it. 
For example, pre-eleventh-century English and Irish and pre-thirteenth- 
century High German texts on the Harrowing are not on the whole 
inspired by the apocryphon. On the other hand, the GN was definitely 
the most vibrant and most widely diffused model for Ihe episode in the 
later Middle Ages, a model whose influence was spread through a 
variety of intermediaries. If not the only, it was, perhaps, the most likely 
source, directly or indirectly, for late medieval writers on the Harrowing. 

The influence of the Descensus frequentiy maiufested itself — and can 
be recognized — through the presence of its typical narrative patterns, 
characters, sequences and types of speeches, or episodes. The Old French 
Passion des jongleurs, for instance, retells, in vividly dramatic language, 
most of the Descensus story, including the discussions among the infernal 
powers and the encounter with Enoch and Elijah. But when the apocry- 
phon was filtered through the prevailing devotional attitudes or aes- 
thetic sensibilities, its ii\fluence appears less as an overt imitation and 
more as a subtie allusion to certain of its motifs. In the Middle English 
Devils' Parliament and, perhaps, in its Irish counterpart as well — both 
reflexes of fifteenth-century popular piety — ^the echoes of the GN grow 
faint, yet remain audible; similarly, the Divine Comedy suggests rather 
than displays Dante's familiarity with the Descensus, used as a subtext or 
as a patterning device. Sometimes, however, even though the author 
evokes the tide of the GN, his composition seems to bear littie or no 
relationship to the apocryphon. This is the case with the Old Norse 
Nidurstigningsvisur, which seems to be using the GN as an authority 
vididating its popular ccmception of the Harrowing rather than as a 


Hie influence of the story of Joseph of Arimathea is notable espe- 
cially in the genre of romance. The events described in the GN provided 
a starting point for the development of a rich body of legend, most fully 
elaborated in Robert de Boron's Josqjh d'Arimathie. Robert himself did 
not rely directly on the GN, and at least one of his translators blamed 
him for it: Jacob van Maerlant complained in the prologue to his Historie 
van den grale that his source contains many factual errors. Maerlant 
corrected them by drawing on the GN. Although common in romances, 
retellings of Joseph's involvement in the sacred events were not confined 
to them. Joseph's story was also dramatized in several vernaculars, 
including French (the Mystere de la Passion Nostre Seigneur), Italian (the 
devozione from L'Aquila), and High German (the Heidelberger Passions- 
spiel, the Tiroler Passion). 

The influence of the Gesta is perhaps the most difficult to document 
because of its similarity to the canonical narratives. The fact that the 
Gesta was sometimes omitted in vernacular translations suggests that it 
was perceived as less attractive or, perhaps, useful than the two later 
sectioi\s. Nevertheless, it too Weis widely known and quarried, especially 
for such details as the episode of the imperial standards bowing before 
Jesus, Procula's dreeun, or the dialogues between Jesus and Pilate. Not 
infrequentiy, this part of the apocryphon was interspersed with the 
canonical text, as mentioned above (sect. 3.5). 

4. State of research 

Although all ancient and Eastern versions of the Acta Pilati are available 
in some form in print, those editions are being currentiy re-evaluated in 
the light of new manuscript evidence and new knowledge about the 
dissemination of Christian writings in late antiquity and the early 
Middle Ages. This work is being done under the auspices of the Asso- 
ciation pour I'etude de la litterature apociyphe chretienne in preparation 
for a comprehensive edition of the apocryphon in the Corpus Chris- 
tianorum. Series Apocryphorum. It is hoped that the results of current 
research will shed new light on the problem of origin and early trans- 
mission of the AP. 

As part of the same project, the study of the Latin Evangelium 
Nicodemi has now entered a crucial stage of classifying extant texts in 
over four hundred manuscripts. This classification will provide the basis 
for subsequent editorial work. At the same time, external evidence is 
being gathered for a detailed study of the EN's dissemination in medi- 
eval libraries and of the circumstances of its transmission during the 
Middle Ages. 

Introduction 19 

Not all Western vernacular traditions of the GN have been re- 
searched to the same extent. The pseudo-gospel has been studied most 
intensely in the Germaiuc languages: English, German, EHitch, Icelandic, 
Swedish, and Danish. Although some work still remains to be done, 
especially in exploring the relationship between the apocryphon and 
various Passion tracts, publishing some of the imedited versions, and 
relating the extant texts to the Latin traditions, the impact of the GN on 
those literatures has been fairly well elucidated. The groundwork for 
research on Celtic traditions has also been already laid, and future 
research on the relationships among the various Irish and Welsh ver- 
sions and on their Latin sources will no doubt enhance the finer details 
of the picture. Less advanced, it seems, is research on the GN in Ro- 
mance languages, although much work is now in progress. In French, 
for example, more work is needed on the manuscripts of the GN and of 
various works that incorporate it in part or in full; in Catalan and 
Ocdtan, new editions to replace the sometimes unreliable nineteenth- 
century texts might further the study of the apocryphon; and in Italian, 
editions of the unstudied manuscripts of the GN are desiderata for 
assessing its place in and impact on Italian literature. 

Nicodemus's Gospel before and 
beyond the Medieval West^ 


/'^ textual richness and complex intertextual affinities of the Gospel 
^^CJt ofNicodemus (GN) in the late Middle Ages are products of a cen- 
^y turies-long process of development. If the final stages of that 
process marked a wide trail in extant religious and literary docimients, 
the earliest ones left hardly a trace. 

1. The Acts of Pilate in patristic tradition 

Manuscript evidence for the formative period of tfie GN's history is 
lacking, as most manuscripts of late antiquity did not withstand the 
ravages of time. It is, therefore, only through fleeting references in the 
writings of church fathers that we can witness the birth and infancy of 
the apocryphon. Patristic testimony, often brief and oblique, may not 
allow the same clarity of understanding or the same degree of certain- 
ty as material evidence, yet so far it alone can offer us some glimpses 
of the nascent cycle of Pilate and the GN. 

' We wish to acknowledge the scholarly assistance of the Association pour 
r^tude de la litt^rature apocryphe chr^enne and to express our gratitude to tfie 
members of the team in charge of a new, comprehensive edition of the Acts of 
Pilate {AP) for the Corpus Ouistianorum, Series Apocryphorum: Brigitte Tam- 
brun-Krasker, Centre nationail de la recherche sdentifique (C. N. R. S.), Paris, 
Christiane Furrer, Faculte de thtelogie. University de Lausanne, and R6mi 
Goimelle, Faculty of th^logie. University de Lausanne (Greek versions); Albert 
Frey, Institut des sciences bibliques. University de Lausanne, and Alain Desreu- 
maux, C. N. R. S., Paris (Syriac and Aramaic); Bernard Outtier, C. N. R. S., Paris 
(Armenian and Georgian); G^ard Roquet, ficole pratique des hautes Etudes, Sci- 
ences historiques et philologjques, Paris (Coptic); and Robert Beylot, C. N. R. S., 
Paris-Lyon (Ethiopic). 


1.1. Justin Maiiyr 

The earliest mentions of some "Acts" of Pilate occur in the apologetic 
writings of Justin Martyr, dated shortly after the middle of the second 
century AD. In his first Apology, chapter 35.9, Justin takes it for granted 
that his adversaries can consult the minutes of the trial of Jesus if they 
wish to verify the truthfulness of his statements about Jesus' death.^ 
However, a few pages earlier (chap. 34.2), Justin makes a similar 
appeal to another non-Christian source, maintaining with equal certi- 
tude that the registers of the census under governor Quirinus bear 
witness to Jesus' birth in Bethlehem,^ although there is no evidence 
that such registers had ever existed. Consequently, his mention of the 
"Acts" does not necessarily guarantee their actual existence.* This 
conclusion is further corroborated by the fact that Justin refers to the 
"Acts" in the context of prophetic "proofs" concerning Jesus' destiny. 
He actually transliterates into Greek the official Latin term "acta," as 
if to endow that source with the nondisputable appearance and author- 
ity enjoyed by scriptural prophecies. The historicity or authenticity of 
the document may thus have been of little or no importance to him. 

Later in his Apology, chapter 48.3, Justin alludes to the same "Acts" 
to prove that Jesus really performed the various miracles attributed to 
him.^ Here, again, the allusion seems to serve Christian apologetics, in 
that the "Acts" are evoked to confirm the fulfilment of the Old Testa- 
ment prophecies. 

Given Justin's willingness to assume the existence of certain 
imperial documents and the prophetic and apologetic contexts of his 
allusions to the "Acts," one may wonder whether he really knew the 
work we call Acts of Pilate. It seems more likely that he either thought 
that such "Acts of Pilate" — like the registers of Quirinus — must have 
existed somewhere,^ or had in mind a series of "proof-texts" about 
Jesus' Passion, such as those known to the apologists of the early 

^ Justin Martyr, Apologies. Texte grec, traduction frangaise, introduction et index, 
ed. Louis Pautigny (Paris: A. Picard, 1904), 72. 
' Ibid., 70. 

* For a different interpretation of this textual evidence, see R. Cameron, ed.. 
The Other Gospels: Non-canonical Gospel Texts (Guildford [Surrey]: Lutterworth 
Press, 1982), 163. 

^ Justin, Apologies, 98. 

* Cf. Felix Scheidweiler, "Nikodemusevtingelium. Pilatusakten und Hollen- 
fahrt Christi," in Neutestamentliche Apokryphen in deutscher Ubersetzung, vol. 1, 
Evangelien, 5th ed., ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul 
Siebeck], 1987), 395. 

Before and beyond the Medieval West 23 

1.2. Tertullian 

Toward the end of the second century, Tertullian uses similar pro- 
Christian arguments in his Apologeticum. In chapter 5, he attempts to 
convince his adversaries that they should abandon their persecution 
of Christians and rescind their unjust laws. In such general context, 
he makes a specific reference (chap. 5.2) to a report concerning the 
diviiuty of Jesus, allegedly received by emperor Tiberius from Pales- 
tine and debated by the Roman senate.^ Shortly afterward, Tertullian 
— like Justin — urges his opponents to consult their annals ("consulite 
commentarios vestros," chap. 5.3).^ Tertullian's mention of the dispatch 
from Palestine is the first reflex of the tradition — closely associated 
with the Gospel ofNicodemus in the Middle Ages — of Pilate's correspon- 
dence with Rome; that he refers to the extant AP here, however, is 

Tertullian appeals to the same tradition in chapter 21.24 of the 
Apologeticum,^ after an account of a series of miracles accompanying 
Jesus' Passion and confirming what the prophets had announced long 
before. "Ea omiua super Christo Pilatus," writes Tertullian, "et ipse 
iam pro sua conscientia christianus, Caesari tunc Tiberio nuntiavit. Sed 
et Caesares credidissent super Christo, si aut Caesares non essent 
necessarii saeculo, aut si et christiani potuissent esse Caesares" ("All 
these facts about Christ were reported to Tiberius, the reigning emper- 
or, by Pilate, who was by now a Christian himself, as far as his con- 
science was concerned. And the Caesars, too, would have believed 
about Christ, had Caesars not been necessary for the world, or if 
Christians could have been Caesars"^**). Thus, that Tertullian was 
familiar with the tradition of epistolary excheinge between Pilate and 
the emperor seems very likely. It is not dear, however, in view of the 
brevity of Tertullian's references, whether that correspondence was 
indeed identical with the texts of the Pilate cycle extant today and 
whether at the time that correspondence was in any way connected 
with the AP, whose existence in the second century caimot be verified. 

"^ Tertullian, Q. S. Ft. Tertulliani Apologeticum, ed. E. Dekkers, in Quinti Septimi 
Florentis Tertulliani Opera, pt. 1, Opera catholica. Adversus Marcionem, CC SL, vol. 1 
(Tumhout: Brepols, 1954), 94-95. 

» Ibid., 95. 

' Ibid., 127. 

'° Tertullian, Apology, trans. Sister Emily Joseph Daly, in The Fathers of the 
Church: A New Translation, vol. 10 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of 
America Press, 1%2), 66. 


1.3. Eusebius of Caesarea 

Tertullian's comments were apparently echoed in the fourth century by 
Eusebius of Caesarea. In chapter 2.2.1 of his Ecclesiastical History, Euse- 
bius mentions that "Pilate communicated to the Emperor Tiberius the 
story of the resurrection from the dead of our Saviour Jesus as already 
famous among all throughout all Palestine, together with the informa- 
tion he had gained of his other wonders and how he was already 
believed by many to be a God, in that after death he had risen from 
the dead."" This description of Pilate's report to Tiberius might re- 
flect knowledge of a text from the cycle of Pilate, such as the Anaphora 
Pilati. But since shortly thereafter Eusebius cites a passage from Tertul- 
lian which refers to reports from Palestine, it seems more likely that 
Eusebius derived his knowledge of the correspondence between Pilate 
and Tiberius from Tertullian. 

And yet Eusebius is the first patrishc writer to provide possible 
clues to the context and circumstances of the emergence of the AP}^ 
In his Ecclesiastical History, chapters 1.9 and 9.5-7,^' he repeatedly 
refers to "hypomnemata" ("memorials," "reports") of Pilate, forged as 
part of fierce anti-Christian propaganda; with the approval of Maximin 
Dai'a, they were posted throughout towns and villages and taught to 
school children.^* Given their audience — the populace at large eind 
children — they must have been rather rudimentary in language and 
style and unsophisticated in concepts (possibly a list of charges against 
Jesus and some account of the trial). Eusebius makes no explicit refer- 
ence to the Christian counterparts to those "hypomnemata," but one 
suspects, admittedly on circumstantial evidence, that the AP known to 
us remain in some relation to those circulated under Maximin. Possi- 
bly, they were a Christian response to the polemics ageiinst Christianity 
evoked by Eusebius, and especially to the attacks against the divinity 
of Christ. If the pagan forgery indeed provoked the Christian text into 

" Eusebius of Caesarea, The Ecclesiastical History, trans. Kirsopp Lake, 2 vols.. 
The Loeb Classical Librtiry (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964- 
65), 1:110-11. 

" See Jean-Daniel Dubois, "Les Actes de Pilate au quatri^me si^e," Apocrypha 
- Le Champ des apocryphes 2, La Fable apocryphe 2 (1991): 85-98. 

" Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 1:72-75, 2:338-51. 

" Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, chap. 9.5 (2:339; cf. chap. 9.7 [2:343]): "Hav- 
ing forged, to be sure. Memoirs of Pilate and our Saviour, full of every kind of 
blasphemy against Christ, with the approval of their chief they sent tiiem round 
to every part of his dominions, with edicts that they should be exhibited openly 
for everyone to see in every place, both town and country, and that the primary 
teachers should give them to flie children, instead of lessons, for study and 
committal to memory." 

Before and beyond the Medieval VJest 25 

existence, then the birth of the apocryphon could be connected with 
a specific climate of social and religious controversies in the fourth 

1.4. Epiphanius 

A tangible proof of the existence of the Christian Acts of Pilate in the 
fourth century comes from the writings pertaining to the controversies 
about the fixation of the date of Easter. One of the participants in those 
debates, Epiphanius, testifies in his Panarion, chapters 50.1.5 and 
50.1.8,^^ that the sect of Quartodecimans in Asia Minor, and especially 
in Cappadocia, using the AP {«'ano Tfi)v 'Aktcdv 5fj9ev nik6LX0Xf»), 
determines the date of Easter on the eighth day before the calends of 
April (25 March). Epiphanius rejects that date not because the work on 
which it is based is apocryphal but because, he says, he knows other 
versions ("antigrapha") of the AP which give a different date for the 
Passion. Thus by the end of the fourth century, the text of the AP 
appears to have already diversified, reflecting the diversity and even 
controversy among early Christian communities. 

1.5. Pseudo-Chrysostom 

About a decade after Epiphanius's Panarion, a pseudo-Chrysostomian 
homily, dating from 387, confirms Epiphanius's report that the Quarto- 
decimans fixed the date of Easter on the 25th day of March on the 
basis of the AP: 

Mais nous gardons, nous autres, la vertu du mystere dans son 
integrite. En effet, le temps ou le Sauveur a souffert n'est pas 
inconnu; car les Actesfaits sous Pilate contiennent aussi la date 
de la Paque. II y est rapporte que le Sauveur a souffert le 8 
des calendes d'avril: cette date tombe apr^s I'equinoxe et est 
acceptee par les gens exacts. Tiens-toi k cette rdgle; ainsi tu te 
rendras compte que le Christ a souffert k cette date-la; le 
sachant, tu veilleras k faire toujours la Paque apr^ I'equinoxe, 
k I'imitation du Christ, tu fuiras d'une part la faute des here- 
tiques, et tu rechercheras d'autre part, la raison des temps.^^ 

'' Epiphanius, Panarion, ed. Karl Holl, rev. J. Duimner, GCS, vol. 31 (Berlin: 
Akademie Verlag, 1980), 245-46. 

'* F. Hoeri and P. Nautin, Homilies pascales, vol. 3, Sources chr^tiennes, vol. 
48 (Paris: Cerf, 1957), 127, par. 17. 


(But it is we who preserve the mystery's force in its entirety. 
Indeed, the time of the Savior's suffering is not unknown since 
the Acts done under Pilate also contains the date for Easter. It is 
reported in it that the Savior suffered on the 8th of the calends 
of April: this date falls after the equinox and is accepted by 
those who are scrupulous. Respect this rule; in this way you 
will realize that Christ suffered on that day. Knowing this, 
you will always be sure to celebrate Easter after the equinox, 
following Christ's example. You will, on the one hand, flee the 
mistake of heretics, and, on the other, you will search for the 
reason of time.) 

The author of this homily, apparently a member of the sect, urges the 
adoption of the date given in the AP, which he refers to by the ancient 
title attested in the manuscripts of the oldest Greek version of the 
apocryphon, "Memorials [Gk. hypomnemata, Lat. acta] of what hap- 
pened to our Lord Jesus Christ under Pontius Pilate, governor over 
Judea." The pseudo-Chrisostomian homily provides, therefore, further 
proof of the apocryphon's circulation in the late fourth century and of 
its value to some Christian communities. 

1.6. The liturgy of Jerusalem 

Fifth-century writers, both Eastern and Western, are silent about the 
AP, but the apocryphon's active presence in the Christian milieu may, 
perhaps, be inferred from certain aspects of paschal liturgy of Jerusa- 
lem. One of the stations visited by pilgrims during the celebration of 
Good Friday was Pilate's praetorium, venerated as a place of Jesus' 
trial. That veneration was probably associated with the transformation 
of the portrait of Pilate: from a Roman governor responsible for 
Christ's death, he became a Christian figure, a Roman governor sup- 
porting the spread of Christianity. It seems that the AP, which empha- 
sizes Pilate's pro-Christian stance, must have played a role in that 

1.7. Gregory of Tours 

When in the sixth century Gregory of Tours evoked "Gesta Pilati ad 
Tiberium imperatorem missa" in his Decern libris historiarum, chapter 

^^ Jean-Daniel Ehibois, "La Representation de la Passion dans la liturgie du 
Vendredi Saint: les Actes de Pilate et la liturgie ancienne de Jerusalem," in Liturgie 
et anthropologie. Conferences St-Serge, XXVf semaine d'etudes liturgiques, ed. A. M. 
Triacca and A. Pistoia (Rome: C. L. V.-Edizioni Liturgiche, 1990), 77-89. 

Before and beyond the Medieval West 27 

1.21/' he gave an impression that the text consisted primarily of a 
miraculous narrative concerning Joseph of Arimathea combined with 
the story of the Passion. These two narratives indeed correspond to the 
first thirteen chapters of the extant Acts of Pilate. Gregory knew also the 
story of Pilate's suicide, often included in the cycle of Pilate apocrypha, 
but he seemed unaware of the narrative of the Descent into Hell, ap- 
parently not yet part of the AP. It is possible that he knew a version of 
the apocryphal text corresponding to Tischendorf's Greek recension A. 

1.8. Photius 

That the apocryphon continued to be used in the Latin West towards 
the end of the first millennium is evident from numerous extant Latin 
manuscripts. Greek manuscripts, however, are much later, and it is 
significant that the Library of Photius,^' the ninth-century bishop of 
Constantinopole, does not mention any text that might be identified 
with the Acts of Pilate. This suggests that the AP was not generally 
known in the Greek-speaking world at that time. In the Library, Codex 
171, Photius refers to a book of Eustratios addressed to Chrysippos, a 
priest in Jerusalem (fifth century), which only aUudes to Gamaliel and 
Nicodemus.^" The same Chrysippos is the supposed redactor of the 
Encomium of Theodor the Martyr,^^ which also alludes to Gamaliel 
and Nicodemus and to the discovery of their relics on the occasion of 
the invention of the relics of Stephen the Protomartyr. None of these 
texts, however, appears to be directly luiked with the AP. 

2. Manuscript and textual traditions 

While the earliest stages in the life of the GN can be gleaned only from 
the scant remarks of church fathers, its subsequent medieval history 
emerges primarily from extant manuscript sources. Both the codices 
and the texts they preserve provide a flood of information — most of it 
still to be interpreted — on the apocryphon's evolution and dissemina- 
tion throughout medieval Christendom. 

'* Gregory of Tours, Gregorii episcopi Turonensis Libri historiarum X, 2d ed., ed. 
Bruno Knisch and Wilhelmus Levison, MGH, Script, rer. Mer., vol. 1, pt. 1 (1951; 
repr., Hannover: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1965), 17-18. 

" Photius, Bibliothtque, ed. Ren6 Henry, indexed by J. Schamp, 9 vols. (Paris: 
Les Belles Lettres, 1957-91). 

^ Ibid. 2:165-67. 

^' Chrysipjxjs, "Encomium of Theodor the Martyr," ed. A. Sigalas, Byzanti- 
nisches Archiv 7 (1921): 1-16. 


2.1. Greek 

Although the earliest manuscript of the GN preserves fragments of a 
Latin text, it has been traditionally assumed — and current research 
supports that assumption — that the apocryphon was originally com- 
posed in Greek. Extant Greek manuscripts preserve two major recen- 
sior\s of the AP, first distinguished by Constantinus de Tischendorf in 
his critical edition of the apocryphon.^ Recension A has now been 
identified in some fifteen manuscripts, the oldest of which dates back 
to the twelfth century (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek [BSB] Cod. 
graec. 276).^ It is usually designated in the title as "hypomngmata," 
begins with a prologue dating the Passion, and covers the Passion of 
Jesus, the reports of his Ascension, and the story of Joseph of Arima- 
thea (chaps. 1-16 of Tischendorf 's edition). Only two manuscripts, 
Paris, Biblioth^ue nationale (BN) MSS. gr. 770 (an. 1315) and gr. 947 
(an. 1574), open with cin additional prologue narrating the discovery by 
a certain Ananias of a work written by Nicodemus; this prologue 
occurs also, in full or in part, in the earliest Latin version, in Coptic, 
and in Syriac. None of the manuscripts of this Greek recension in- 
cludes the Descensus Christi ad inferos (D/), which is absent from all 
Eastern trcmslations and most likely did not belong to the original 
apocryphon. It is from this form A of the Greek AP that all translations 
into Latin and Eastern languages were carried out. 

The Greek recension B of the AP survives in about 30 codices, the 
oldest of which has been assigned to the fourteenth century (Aim 
Arbor, Mich., University Library MS. 58).^* It is typically designated 
in manuscript titles as "diggesis," a detailed or explicative narrative. 
The prologue which opens it represents a (con)fusion of the two pro- 
logues found in recension A and maintains that the work was written 
in Hebrew by Ananias and translated by Nicodemus. The bulk of re- 
cension B covers much the same ground as A but differs from it in the 

" Constantinus de Tischendorf, ed., Evangelia apocrypha, 2d rev. ed. (Leipzig: 
H. Mendelssohn, 1876), 210-332. Tischendorf's edition overshadowed and re- 
placed those by Andreas Birch, ed., Auctarium Codicis apocryphi N. T. Fabriciani . . . , 
vol. 1 (Copenhagen: Amtzen et Hartier, 1804), and by Johann Carl Thilo, ed.. 
Codex apocryphns Noxn Testamenti, vol. 1 (Leipzig: F. C. G. Vogel, 1832). 

^ Most manuscripts have been identified by Brigitte Tambrun-Krasker, 
whose research is now continued by R^mi Gounelle amd Christiane Furrer. 

" The best and most detailed studies of this Greek recension are those by 
R^mi Gounelle, "Recherches sur les Actes apocryphes de Pilate grecs. Recension 
B," 2 vols., M^moire prfeent^ pour I'obtention du Dipldme d'fitudes Approfon- 
dies. University Paris X-Nanterre (1991), and idem, "Acta Pilati grecs B (BHG 
779u-w), traditions textuelles," Recherches augustiniennes 26 (1992): 273-94. The 
following remarks are greatly indebted to these studies. 

Before and beyond the Medieval Wesf 29 

distribution of emphases. For example, B strives, to a greater extent 
than A, to portray Pilate as a Christian; it expands the account of' the 
Crucifixion, death, and entombment at the expense of the proceedings 
before Pilate; and it endows the figure of Virgin Mary with special sig- 
nificance. Furthermore, recension B incorporates the story of the 
Descent into Hell, quite similar to that of the so-called Latin version A 
(see below). It appears, therefore, that Greek B is a result of a careful 
revision of the original Greek text, perhaps with the aid of a Latin 
translation. Since chapters 1-12.2 of recension B occur in homiliaries 
among readings for Good Friday and chapters 12.3-17 an\ong those for 
Easter Sunday, such revision might have been motivated liturgi- 
cally.^ In contrast to Greek A, Greek B was never translated into other 

In many manuscripts, the Greek AP is accompanied by various 
annexes, usually other texts of the cycle of Pilate, such as the Paradosis 
Pilati, the Anaphora Pilati, and the correspondence between Pilate and 
Tiberius, Herod, or Claudius. This association may have influenced the 
way the AP was perceived and used over the centuries, cdthough 
Brigitte Tambrun-Krasker's research indicates that Pilate apocrypha 
were not confined to the manuscripts of the AP. 

2.2. Latin 

Although the Latin Evangelium Nicodemi is clearly translated from 
Greek, several Latin codices attest to the history of the apocryphon 
before the period of the earliest known Greek manuscripts.^^ The 
most important among them, a palimpsest from Vienna, Osterreich- 
ische Nationalbibliothek MS. 563, may go as far back as the fifth cen- 
tury.^ Its fragmentary text preserves the two prologues and parts of 

" Govinelle, "Recherches sur les Actes apocryphes de Pilate grecs," 2:72. It is 
notewortfiy that Greek B was still printed in Atf\ens at tiie end of tf\e nineteentti 
century and at the beginning of the twentieth to stimtilate orthodox piety; for a 
list of those editions, see bibliography, sect. 

^ For a Ust of Latin manuscripts antedating the twelfth century, see Zbigniew 
Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," Manuscripta 33 (1989): 178. All 
known Latin manuscripts of the EN are listed by idem. Manuscripts of the "Evan- 
gelium Nicodemi": A Census, Subsidia Mediaevalia, vol. 21 (Toronto: Pontifical 
Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1993). 

^ The irumuscript has been described by Guy Philippart, "Fragments palimp- 
sestes latins du Vindobonensis 563 (V siMe?). fivangile selon S. Mattfiieu. 
fivangile de I'enfance selon Thomas, fivangile de Nicod^me," Analecta Bollandiana 
90 (1972): 391-411, and by Myriam Despineux, "Une Version latine palimpseste 
du V* siMe de I'^vangile de Nicodto\e {Vienne, ONB MS 563)," Scriptorium 42 
(1988): 176-83; the text of tiie EN has been edited by Guy Philippart, 'Tes Frag- 
ments palimpsestes de I'fivangile de Nicod^me dans le Vindobonensis 563 (V* s.?)," 
Analecta Bollandiana 107 (1989): 171-88. 


chapters 1-16 but no DI. Later manuscripts support at least three dis- 
tinct recensions of the Latin apocryphon (referred to as EN A, B, and 
C, respectively), whose exact mutual relationships have not yet been 
determined. Most numerous are texts of type A, the least of type C. 
The recensions differ, at times considerably, in terms of language, 
style, and, to some extent, contents, even though they all include an 
account of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, the narra- 
tive of Joseph of Arimathea, and the story of Christ's Harrowing of 
Hell. The differences confirm that the EN was subject to considerable 
editorial activity since the early Middle Ages. Each of the three major 
recensions provided a basis for later vernacular translations. 

Other Pilate apocrypha also abound in Latin. However, in contrast 
to many Eastern works on Pilate which showed Pilate as Christian or 
at least as sympathetic to Christianity, such as the Paradosis Pilati, the 
Latin texts tend to portray him as a villain responsible for Christ's 
death and deserving of his inglorious end.^ 

2.3. Coptic 

The Acts of Pilate did not remain confined to the Greco-Roman world 
but were translated and adapted by various Southern and Eastern 
Christian communities. The perfectly preserved Papyrus no. 1 of the 
Museo Egizio di Torino proves that the apocryphon was known in the 
Coptic church.^^ Written probably in the tenth century, the Turin 
papyrus preserves a complete Coptic translation of the AP, which on 
linguistic grounds might, perhaps, be placed in the fifth century.^ 

^ The Latin traditions of the Evangelium Nicodemi and of the associated Pilate 
apocrypha are explored more fully later in this volume. 

^' Before the meticulous edition by Francesco Rossi, Trascrizione di un codice 
copto del Museo Egizio di Torino con illustrazione e note, Memorie della Reale acca- 
demia delle scienze di Torino, 2d ser., vol. 35 (Turin: Stamperia reale, 1883), over 
a hundred years ago, the Coptic text was known to scholars only through its 
Latin translation prepared by A. Peyron for Tischendorf, who included it in the 
critical apparatus to his edition of the apocryphon. The papyrus was subsequentiy 
edited and translated into French by E. R^villout, Les Apocryphes coptes, II. Acta 
Pilati et suppliment H I'tvangile des douze apdtres, Patrologia Orientalis, vol. 9, pt. 2 
(Paris: F. Didot, 1907). Recently, M. Vandoni and T. Orlandi, Vangelo di Nicodemo, 
pt. 1, Testo copto dai papiri di Torino, pt. 2, Traduzione dal copto e commentario, Testi 
e documenti per lo studio dell'antichit«l, vols. 15 and 15a (Milan: Instituto Edi- 
toriale Cisalpino, 1966), produced yet another edition, accompanied by an Italicui 
translation and commentary. For the dating of the Turin papyrus, see Vandoni 
and Orlcmdi, Vangelo di Nicodemo, 1:9. 

^ Vandoni and Orlandi, Vangelo di Nicodemo, 2:76-77. G. C. O'Ceallaigh, 
"Dating the Commentaries of Nicodemus," Harvard Theological Review 56 (1963): 
30, argues that "the original Coptic translation [is] no ecirlier than the tenth [cen- 

Before and beyond the Medieval West 31 

The Coptic version corresponds by and large to Tischendorf' s Greek 
recension A. It has two prologues but, like the Greek, does not contain 
the narrative of the Descent into Hell, although the theme of catabasis 
is well attested in such Coptic works as Pistis Sophia, two Nag Ham- 
madi tractates Silvanos and Trimorphic Protennoia (NHC 7 and 13, re- 
spectively), and two fragments on Christ's victory over hell from The 
Book of the Resurrection of Christ hy Bartholomew in London, British 
Library (BL) MS. Or. 6954, fols. 44^5.^^ Unlike the Greek text, the 
Coptic translation shows considerable precision in the use of termi- 
nology for admirustrative, judiciary, and religious concepts, which be- 
trays its decidedly Egyptian background. 

Independent of the Tiuin papyrus are the two Coptic fragments of 
the AP published soon after the appearance of Rossi's edition by 
P. Lacau from Paris, BN MSS. copt. 129^^, fol. 50, and copt. 129^*, fol. 
140.^^ The first fragment, a folio paginated 27-28, reflects for the most 
part Tischendorf 's Greek AP A, chapter 9.1.3-9.3.2,-^ the second frag- 
ment, paginated 31-32, compares with AP A, chapters 10.1.6-11.1.^ 
These two folios clearly come from the same manuscript, and their 
pagination indicates that the manuscript originally contained a com- 
plete version of the AP^ A careful comparison of the fragments and 
the Turin papyrus against the Greek material reveals that most of the 
readings uruque to the fragments can be found in Greek manuscripts 
imknown to Tischendorf. Furthermore, whereas the biblical quotations 
and allusions in the Turin papyrus seem in harmony with the canoni- 
cal form of the Bible, those in the two fragments preserve a divergent 
text. This evidence strongly suggests that the Greek text underlying the 
fragments must have been different from that which lies behind the 

'' B. Layton, Catalogue of Coptic Literary Manuscripts in the British Library 
Acquired since the Year 1906 (London: The British Library, 1987), 110-11, no. 99. 

^ P. Lacau, ed., "Acta Pilati," in Fragments d'apocryphes coptes, M^moires pub- 
life par les Membres de I'lnstitut fran^ais d'arch^logie orientale du Caire, vol. 9 
(Cairo: Institut fran^cds d'arch^logie orientale, 1904). Lacau's work was improved 
upon by O. von Lemm, "Kleine koptische Studien. XLII. Eine neutestamentliche 
apokryphe Geschichte" and "XLIV. Eine neue Bartholomeus-Apokalypse," 
Izoestiia Imperatorskoj Akademii Nauk (St. Petersburg), 5th series, vol. 21, no. 3 
(1904): 76-89, 151-61 (reprinted in O. von Lemm, Kleine koptische Studien I-LVIH, 
ed. P. Nagel, Subsidia Byzantina, vol. 10 [Leipzig: Zentralantiqucuiat der DDR, 
1972], widi the same pagination). These fragments were also reprinted in R^vil- 
lout, Les Apocryphes coptes, U, 127 [153J-129 [155] and 129 [155]-132 [158]. 

^ Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha, 240-42; cf. the Latin Gesta Pilati, chaps. 
9.1.3-9.3.2 (Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha, 358-59). 

^ Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha, 246-48; cf. Gesta Pilati, chaps. 10.1.8-11.1 
(Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha, 361-63). 

^ Lacau, Fragments, 1 n. 3. 


papyrus and that the AP must have been translated into Coptic twice, 
each time from a different Greek exemplar. 

If we believe the testimony of Johannes de Hildesheim, writing in 
the second half of the fourteenth century, the medieval Coptic church 
put the GN to liturgical use. In his Liber de gestis ac trina beatissimorum 
trium regum translatione, Johannes remarks, without citing his source, 
that in Coptic churches the apocryphon is read during mass.^ Unfor- 
timately, he offers no details or explanations of this practice, so it is 
impossible to know which version might have enjoyed such popu- 
larity. Modem scholarship has not yet been able to verify this tantaliz- 
ing comment. 

The Coptic tradition heis also preserved several pieces from the 
Pilate cycle, such as the Encomium in Mariam Magdalenam and Homilia 
de lamentis Mariae,^^ but their exact relation to the Coptic Acts still 
needs to be investigated. The Homilia de morte Pilati was originaUy 
composed in Coptic although it is now extant only in Arabic and 

2.4. Arabic 

The widespread circulation of Pilate apocrypha in the southern and 
eastern Mediterreinean basin is further confirmed by their translations 
into Arabic. Although no texts of the Acts of Pilate have yet been found, 
several pieces from the Pilate cycle have. Two of them, the Homilia 
de morte Pilati and the Homilia de lamentis Mariae,^^ are preserved in 

^ See Ugo Monneret de Villard, Le leggende orientali sui magi eoangelici, Studi 
e testi, vol. 163 (Vaticcin City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1952), 192. 

^^ Geerard, Clatns, nos. 73, 74. For the former, see R. G. Coquin and G. Godron, 
"Un Encomion copte sur Marie-Madeleine attribu^ k Cyrille de Jerusalem," 
Bulletin de I'Institut frangais d'archiologie orientate 90 (1990): 169-212; for the latter, 
Lacau, Fragments, 15-18, and E. R^villout, Les Apocryphes copies, I, Patrologia 
Orientalis, vol. 2, pt. 2 (Paris: F. Didot, 1907), 170-74. 

^ Geerard, Clavis, no. 75. Related to the AP are also the Sa'idic fragments in 
the Bodleian library, published by John W. B. Bams, "Bodleian Fragments of a 
Sa'idic Version of the Acta Pilati," in Coptic Studies in Honor of Walter Ewing Crum, 
ed. M. Malinine, Bulletin of the Byzantine Institute of America, vol. 2 (Boston, 
Mass.: Byzantine Institute, 1950), 245-50. 

^ Three manuscripts of the Homilia de morte Pilati were known already to 
Thilo, Codex apocryphus, clvii-clix: Paris, BN MSS. karshuni 273 (saec. XVI), and 
ar. 152 (saec. XVI), and Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Bibl. Apost. 
Vat.) MS. ar. 55. ITie second of these was edited early in the twentieth centu^ by 
E. Galtier, "Le Martyre de Pilate," in Mimoires et fragments inidits, ed. E. Chassinat 
(Cairo: Institut franqais d'arch^logie orientale, 1912), 31-103, and again, with an 
English translation, by A. Mingaina, "Timothy's Apology for Christicinity, the 
Lament of the Virgin, the Martyrdom of Pilate," in Woodbrooke Studies: Christian 
Documents in Syriac, Arabic and Garshuni, ed. and trans. Alphonse Mingana (Cam- 

Before and beyond the Medieval West 33 

several mostly post-medieval manuscripts but are descended from 
much earlier traditions as both are also extant in homilies attributed to 
Cyriacus of Behensa, a Coptic author and bishop of Oxyrhynchos. 
Moreover, these two texts provided sources for Ethiopic translations. 
Even more symptomatic of the AP's diffusion and influence are the 
Arabic redactions of the Anaphora and Paradosis of Pilate, two common 
satellites of the Greek AP which frequently accompany the apocryphon 
in its other linguistic versions.*" 

The catabasis myth was also treated in Arabic: a text comprising 
an extensive dialogue between Death and the Devil as well as a brief 
account of the Descent was first edited and translated into Russian 
from a ninth-century manuscript by I. Krachkovskij.*^ This dialogic 
piece is reminiscent of the DI but apparently not directly related to it, 
being based on the hymns of Ephraem the Syrian.*^ 

2.5. Ethiopic 

Dependent on the Arabic are the Ethiopic traditions concerning Pilate. 
The Homilia de lamentis Mariae and the Homilia de morte Pilati were both 
translated from Arabic through the efforts of Abba Salama (1348-1387/ 
88); the former survives in numerous codices, the latter in four.^ The 

bridge: W. Heffer and Sons, 1928), 2:241-333, who used several additional codices 
(Birmingham, Selly Oak Colleges MSS. Mingana Syr. [Karshuni] 127 [an. 1683]; 
Mingana Syr. 355 [ca. 1800]; and Vatican City, Bibl. Apost. Vat. MS. Vat. sir. 
[Karshuni] 199 [an. 1545]). The same text is preserved also in Paris, BN MS. ar. 
4874^ (saec. XIX). The Homilia de lamentis Mariae has been edited by Mingana, 
"Timothy's Apology," 163-240, from Mingana Syr. [Karshuni] 87 (saec. XV) and 
Mingana Syr. 127. Cf. Georg Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, 
vol. 1, Die Ubersetzungen, Studi e testi, vol. 118 (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica 
Vaticana, 1944), 238-^. 

*° The Arabic Anaphora Pilati and Paradosis Pilati have been edited, together 
with the Syriac recensions, by Margaret Dunlop Gibson, Apocrypha Sinaitica, 
Studia Sinaitica, vol. 5 (London: C. J. Clay and Sons, 18%), 1-14 [translation] and 
16-26 [edition], from Mount Sinai, St. Catherine Monastery MSS. Ar. 445 [saec. XII; 
copied from a codex dated 799] and Ar. 508 [saec. IX-X]). Since the late nineteenth 
century, several other manuscripts of these two texts have been identified: Paris, 
BN MS. ar. 48%^ (saec. XVI); Sinai MSS. Ar. 35 (saec. EX-X) and Ar. 9 (an. 965); 
Strasbourg, Biblioth^ue nationale et universitaire MS. ar. 150 (em. 905); Milan, 
Biblioteca Ambrosiana MS. X. 198 Sup. (saec. XI); Cambridge, University Library 
MSS. Addit. 2281 (Karshuni; an. 1484) and Addit. 2885 (Karshuni; an. 1771); 
Cairo, Coptic Museum MS. Ar. 32 (Liturgical no. 15; an. 1634); tind Oxford, Bodl. 
Ub. MS. Syr. 140 (Karshuni). 

*' I. Krachkovskij, "Novozavetnyj apokrif v arabskoj rukopisi 885-886 goda 
po R. Khr.," Vizantijskij vremennik 14 (1907): 246-75. 

^ See G. Garitte, "Homelie d'fiphrem 'Sur la mort et le diable.' Version g6or- 
gienne et version arabe," Le Musion 82 (1%9), 123-63. 

*^ Both works were edited (the Homilia de morte Pilati from only one manu- 
script), with German translations, by M.-A. van den Oudenrijn, Gamaliel. Aethio- 


Homilia de morte Pilati is extant in two versions: in one Pilate suffers 
martyrdom through crucifixion, and in the other through decapita- 
tion.^ As far as we know, no Ethiopic version of the Acts of Pilate sur- 
vives, but given the interest in and veneration for the figure of Pilate 
south of the Nile Valley,^ it is possible that such a text once existed. 

2.6. Syriac 

More tangible than for the Arabic and Ethiopic traditions is the evidence 
for the knowledge of the Acts of Pilate in Syriac and Palestinian Christian 
communities. In 1908 I. E. Rahmani published a Syriac recension of the 
AP from two acephalous manuscripts, a fourteenth-century codex from 
Mossoul (siglum A) and a parchment from St. Samona in Mediad near 
Mardin (siglum B).^ Two folios from a third manuscript — Birmingham, 
Selly Oak Colleges MS. Syr. 639 — ^written around 1200 in a "West Syrian 
hand," have been published by Mingana.^^ 

In general, the Syriac text resembles the Greek A and Coptic ver- 

pische Texte zur Pilatusliteratur (Fribourg: Universitatsverlag, 1959); for the dat- 
ing of the Homilia de lamentis Marine, see pp. xviii-xxi, and for its manuscripts, 
pp. xlix-liv. A new edition of the Homilia de morte Pilati (from all four codices), 
accompanied by a French trcmslation, has been recently published by Robert 
Beylot, Le Martyre de Pilate ethiopien, Patrologia Orientalis, vol. 45, fasc. 4, no. 204 
(Tumhout: Brepols, 1993). 

** The second version was first edited and translated into Itcdian by E. CeniUi, 
"L'Oriente Cristiano nell'unit^ delle sue tradizioni," in Atti del Convegno Inter- 
nazionale sul tema: L'Oriente Cristiano nella storia delta civilth (Roma 31 marzo-3 aprile 
1963, Firenze 4 aprile 1963), Problemi attucdi di scienza e di cultura, quademo, no. 
62 (Rome: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 1964), 9-43 (reprinted in E. Cerulli, La 
letteratura etiopica con un saggio sull'Oriente Cristiano, 3d enl. ed. [Florence: G. C. 
Sansoni, 1%8], 193-229). 

*' Cf. E. Cerulli, 'Tiberius and Pontius Pilate in Ethiopian Tradition and 
Poetry," Proceedings of the British Academy 59 (1973): 141-58; idem, "Un Hymne 
Ethiopien h Pilate sanctifi^," Milanges de I'Universite Saint-Joseph 49 (1975-76): 591- 
94; and Robert Beylot, "Bref Aper^ des principaux textes ^tiiiopiens d6riv& des 
Acta Pilati," Langues orientates anciennes. Philologie et linguistique 1 (1988): 181-95. 

** I. E. Rcihmani, ed. and trans., Hypomnemata Domini nostri seu Acta Pilati 
antiqua versio Syriaca, Studia Syriaca, vol. 2 (Typis Patriarchalibus in Seminario 
Scharfensi in Monte Libano, 1908). Rahmani dated MS. B to the eighth century, 
but O'Ceallaigh, "Dating the Commentaries," 42-49, contests that dating. 

*^ Alphonse Mingana, Catalogue of the Mingana Collection of Manuscripts Now 
in the Possession of the Trustees of the Woodbrooke Settlement, Birmingham, vol. 3, 
Additional Christian Arabic and Syriac Manuscripts (Cambridge: W. Heffer and Sons, 
1939), 79-81 (text) and 81-85 (translation). Four additional manuscripts of the 
Syriac AP are currently being studied by A. Frey: Sinai, MS. Syr. 82 (saec. XUI ?); 
Sharfah MS. Patr. 79 (today in Dar'Un-Harissa, Lebanon; this is a copy of 
Rahmani's manuscript A from Mossoul); Birmingham, Selly Oak Colleges MS. 
Mingana Syr. 4; and Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University, Houghton Library 
MS. Syr. 91 (possibly a copy of tiie Mingana Syr. 4). 

Before and beyond the Medieval West 35 

sions. It contains the first prologue of Ananias, although placed at the 
end of the apocryphon; the second prologue may have been lost 
together with the beginning of the text. Like other Eastern versions, it 
lacks an account of Christ's Descent into Hell. Among its idiosyncra- 
sies may be coimted the names of the two thieves, given here as Titus 
(good) and Dymachos (evil); these particular names occur in other 
Eastern traditions (Arabic and Ethiopic) but are unknown in Greek or 
Latin.^ In spite of Rahmani's claim of great antiquity for the Syriac 
AP — ^he believed it reflects a fourth-century Greek prototype — its 
numerous abridgements and alterations resemble late revisions in 
other languages and place the translation, according to O'Ceallaigh, in 
the tenth century or later.^ 

In the two manuscripts used by Rahmani, additional Pilate apocry- 
pha are armexed to the AP. They include the correspondence between 
Pilate and Herod and fragments of an exchange between Pilate and 
one Theodorus concerning the legality of Pilate's sentence against 
Jesus. One of the codices contains also a note by one Ursinus or Orsi- 
nus, apparently Jesus' contemporary, which confirms that Pilate sent a 
letter to Tiberius reporting the death of Jesus crucified by the Jews. 
This might represent a confirmation of Tertullian's report on the dis- 
patches from Palestine to Tiberius, except that Orsinus is not otherwise 
known and hence this testimony appears suspect. The Syriac trans- 
lations of the Anaphora Pilati and Paradosis Pilati, published from Sinai' 
MS. Syr. 82, by Gibson, circulated independently of the extant AP.^ 

2.7. Palestinian Aramaic 

Though concrete, the evidence for the presence of the Acts of Pilate in 
Palestine is unfortunately rather limited. It consists of a few scraps of 
text in Palestiiuan Aramaic, corresponding to the Greek recension A, 
chapters 1.6-2.5, recovered from the lower script of two ninth-century 
palimpsest fragments.^^ The Palestiruan Aramaic translation of which 

*• For the tfiieves' other names, see Bruce M. Metzger, "Names for the Name- 
less in the New Testament: A Study in the Growth of Christian Tradition," in his 
New Testament Studies: Philological, Versional, and Patristic, New Testament Tools 
and Shidies, vol. 10 (Leiden: E. J. BriU, 1980), 33-39. 

*' O'Ceallaigh, "Dating the Commentaries," 47; cf. similar comments by Van- 
doni and Orlandi, Vangelo di Nicodemo, 2:40 n. 13, and by Scheidweiler, "Niko- 
demusevangelium," 397 n. 3. 

* Gibson, Apocrypha Sinaitica; cf. Sebastian Brock, "A Fragment of the Acta 
Pilati in Christian Palestinian Aramaic," Journal of Theological Studies, n.s., 22 
(1971): 158-59 n. 4. 

'' The text has been printed by F. Schulthess, ed., Christlich-palSstinische Frag- 
mente aus der Omajjaden-Moschee zu Damaskus, Abhandlungen der koniglichen 


the exteint passages are remnants was made from a Greek rather than 
from a Syriac source; the date of that translation is still uncertain.^^ 

2.8. Armenian 

The Acts of Pilate were also known to the Armeruans, Georgiai^, and 
Slavs. The Armeiuan manuscript tradition of the AP, comprising at 
least nine codices, goes back to the twelfth century or earlier and 
reflects two forms of the translation.^ Four manuscripts — ^Paris, BN 
MSS. arm. 110 (an. 1194) and arm. 178 (saec. XII), Jerusalem, St. James 
Monastery MS. Arm. la (an. 1417), and Venice, San Lazzaro MS. 104 
(saec. XV-XVI) — preserve what appears to be the older text; the re- 
maining manuscripts — Erevan, Matenadaran MSS. 993 (an. 1456), 1521 
(an. 1404), and 4670 (an. 1401); and Jerusalem, St. James Monastery 
MSS. Arm. 9 (saec. XVI) and Arm. 173 (an. 1512)^— represent later 
redactions. The original translation was done, according to Conybeare, 
"most likely before 600 A.D." from Greek.^^ The later recensions are 
characterized by a number of peculiar readings and additional borrow- 
ings from the canonical gospels. Since many of their variants have 
counterptuts in Greek or other recensions, Conybeare argued that they 
"must be the result of a fresh comparison with Greek text of the 
original Armenian version."^ These revised texts often fluctuate, with 
most extensive emd, perhaps, telling alterations affecting the charges of 
the Jews against Jesus. None of the Armenian texts includes the DI. 

Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Gottingen, philologisch-historische Klasse, 
N.F., vol. 8, no. 3 (Berlin: Weidniannsche Buchhandlung, 1905), 134-36, and 
identified by Brock, "A Fragment," 157-58. 

'^ With his current rese«irch on these fragments, A. Desreumaux hopes to 
shed some light on the transmission context of the manuscript to which they once 

" The Armenian translation of the AP has been known in the West mainly 
through F. C. Conybeare, ed., "Acta Pilati," in Studia biblica et ecdesiastica: Essays 
Chiefly in Biblical and Patristic Criticism, vol. 4 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896), 59- 
132. Without printing the originals, Conybeeire retranslated two Armenitin ver- 
sions into Greek and Latin. The Armenian text has been published by H. E. 
Tayets'i, T'angaran haykakan hin ew nor dprut'eants', vol. 2, Ankanon girk' nor 
ktakaranats' (Venice: San lazzaro, 1898), 313-45; although based on five manu- 
scripts, Tayets'i's text conflates two distinct recensions of the apocryphon. A com- 
pletely new edition of the Armenian versions is being prepared by B. Outtier, 
who is studying several manuscripts unknown to Conybeiire and Tayets'i. 

^ Related to the AP may be an unedited homiletic fragment in Kipchak (Old 
Turkish in Armenian script), preserved in Paris, BN MS. arm. 194. 

'^ Conybeare, "Acta Pilati," 65. This dating is contested by O'Ceallaigh, who 
places it in the early twelftii century ("Dating the Commentaries," 41). 

^ Conybeare, "Acta Pilati," 62. 

Before and beyond the Medieval West 37 

In one of the later branches of the Armenian textual tradition, com- 
prising several manuscripts, the authorship of the AP is attributed' to 
James of Jerusalem (son of Zebedee, the traditional apostle of the 
Armenians). This redaction, printed apparently in 1710,^ also links 
the AP with the Paradosis Pilati and the text called Mystery of the Pas- 
sion. In other branches, copies of the AP are transmitted jointly with 
various other pieces of the cycle of Pilate, such as an account of the 
dream of Pilate's wife and the letters of Pilate, or with certain themati- 
cally related texts, such as the letter of Jeimes to Quadratus and a 
homily for Good Friday. 

2.9. Georgian 

According to C. K'urc'ikize, the recent editor of the Georgian Acts of 
Pilate, the Georgian translation survives in about twenty manuscripts, 
ranging from the eleventh (Sinai MS. Georg. 78, an. 1031) to the nine- 
teenth century.^ Of the eight codices she used for the edition, three 
contain sixteen chapters, while the remaining five end in chapter 13. 
This frequent abridgement is apparently indicative of the desire to 
suppress the account of the three rabbis concerning the Ascension and 
to confine the narrative to the events known from the canonical texts. 
K'urc'ikize's text is relatively dose to Tischendorf's Greek recension A, 
although with some modifications. For example, the begiiming of the 
apocryphon is altered, and the accusation that Christ was bom of 
fornication is omitted. Like Greek A, the Georgian version does not 
contain the DI. To judge from the textual and linguistic features, the 
Georgiein translation was done in the eighth century at the latest. 

Although K'urc'ikize's edition constructs a single, uniform text, 
B. Outtier's independent research indicates that the Georgian tradition 
comprises two sorts of texts which may involve — like tiieir Coptic 
counterparts — two different Greek sources. The more recent Georgian 
redaction, preserved in nineteenth-century manuscripts, uses a Greek 
text different from the one that underlies the early Georgian translation. 

^ Cf. Raymond H. Ke'vorkian, Catalogue des "incunables" armtniens (Geneva: 
P. Cramer, 1986), no. 128. 

^ C. K'urc'ikize, ed., Nik'odimosis apok'rip'uli c'ignis k'art'uli versia (Tbilisi: 
Mecniereba, 1985). The first Georgian text of the AP was published in 1907 by 
A. Khakhanov in the Proceedings of tfie Oriental Section of the Russian Archaeo- 
logical Society in Moscow ("Evangelie Nikodima," in Drevnosti vostochnyia: Trudy 
Vostochtioj kommissii Imperatorskogo moskovskogo arkheologicheskogo obshchestva 
[Moscow], vol. 3, no. 1 (1907): 1-20). Somewhat earlier, I. A. Diavachigvili had 
copied the apocryphon from Sinai' MS. Georg. 78; his transcript, however, did not 
appear in print imtil 1947 {Sinis mt'is k'art'ul helnacert'a agceriloba [Tbilisi: Acad- 
emy of Sciences, 1947]). 


Apart from the AP, the Georgians knew also other Pilate apocry- 
pha. Perhaps the most important among them is the Narratio losqyhi de 
Arimathaea, which in the Georgian version includes an account of the 
foundation of the church in Lydda (that account is extant also in Greek 
and Latin but as an independent text).^ 

2.10. Slavonic 

Slavonic versions of the Acts of Pilate, although known since the nine- 
teenth century, remain relatively unexplored. Of well over sixty manu- 
scripts in various Slavonic languages listed by Aurelio de Santos 
Otero,^ fewer than a quarter have been closely studied or edited. 
Most recently, A. VaiUant published the so-called "long version" of the 
apocryphon from three manuscripts.^^ This "long" redaction is based 
on a full Latin text and includes a translation of the DI. It survives in 
some eighteen manuscripts, including two Glagolithic fragments 
(which, according to Biserka Grabar, stand closer to the original trans- 
lation than the Cyrillic copies)^^ and is excerpted in four others. Lin- 
guistic evidence suggests that it was translated in the eleventh or 
twelfth century in Croatia or Dalmatia;^ it is not impossible, how- 
ever, that the apocryphon was translated more than once and that not 
all manuscripts of the "long version" contain the same translation. 

^ See Geerard, Clavis, no. 77, and the literature listed there. Most recently, 
the text has been discussed by Michel van Esbroeck, "L'Histoire de I'figlise de 
Lydda dans deux textes gtorgiens," Bedi Kartlisa 35 (1977): 108-31. 

*° Aurelio de Santos Otero, Die handschriftliche Uberlieferung der altslavischen 
Apokiyphen, vol. 2 (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1981), 61-98. Santos Otero's list of 
manuscripts containing the Acts in Slavonic translations is, however, neither 
exhaustive nor accurate; for numerous corrections and additions, see Francis J. 
Thomson, "Apocrypha Slavica: II," The Slavonic and East European Review 63, no. 
1 (1985): 79^3. 

*' Andr^ Vaillant, ed., L'tvangile de Nicodeme: Texte slave et texte latin, Centre 
de recherches d'histoire et de philologie de la rv^™ section de I'E. P. H. E, vol. 2, 
Hautes Etudes orientales, vol. 1 (Geneva: Droz, 1968). This version was previously 
edited by Ljubomir Stojanovi^, "Nekoliko rukopisa iz befke Carske Biblioteke," 
Glasnik Srpskog uCenog druStva (Belgrade) 63 (1885): 89-120, and by Ivan Franko, 
Apokryfy i lehendy z ukrains'kykh rukopysiv, Pamiatnyky ukrain'sko-rus'koi movy i 
literatiiry, edited by Stepan Komarevs'kyi, vol. 2 (Lvov: Naukove Tovarystvo im. 
Shevchenka, 1899), 252-72 and 293-304. 

*^ Biserka Grabar, "LJber das Problem der langeren Fassung des Nikodemus- 
evangeliums in der alteren slavischen Literatur," in Byzance et les Slaves: Etudes de 
cimlisation. Melanges Ivan DujCev (Paris: Association des cimis des Etudes arch^o- 
logiques des mondes byzantino-slaves et du christianisme oriental, 1979), 201-6. 

*' Thomson, "Apocrypha Slavica," 80. Vaillant, L'tvangile de Nicodhne, ix, 
dates it to the tenth century. 

Before and beyond the Medieval West 39 

The "short version" of the Slavonic AP— without the D7— repre- 
sents two translations, both made in Bulgaria and both derived from 
the Greek recension A. One of them, extant in two manuscripts, prob- 
ably belongs to the twelfth century; the other, attested by nineteen 
codices, may be some two centuries later." The latter translation is 
usually combined with the Anaphora Pilati and the Paradosis Pilati.^ 

At least nine manuscripts (and perhaps as many as twenty-five) 
contain a sixteenth-century Russian redaction of the AP, combirung the 
"short version" with the DI of the "long" one.^ The AP was also 
translated into Old Czech, jointly with the Cura sanitatis Tiberii (several 
manuscripts besides the one mentioned by de Santos Otero), and into 
Old Polish (not listed by de Santos Otero) .^^ Other apocrypha relating 
to Pilate, such as Anaphora, Paradosis, Tiberii rescriptum, Narratio losephi 
de Arimathea, and Narratio de Martha, often circulated independently of 
the AP and survive in numerous manuscripts.^ 

Badly in need of systematic study, the Slavonic translations may 
prove im^portant for reconstructing the transmission history of the 
AP. Since the Slavonic tradition absorbed both Western and Eastern 

" Thomson, "Apocrypha Slavica," 80. 

" The "short version" was printed in full or in part by A. N. Pypin, Lozhnyia 
i otrechennyia knigi russkoj stariny, Pamiatniki starinnoj russkoj literatury izda- 
vaemye grafom Grigoriem Kushelevym-Bezborodko, vol. 3, Slavistic Printings 
and Reprintings, vol. 97, no. 2 (1862; repr., The Hague: Mouton, 1970), 91-108; 
G. DaniCid, "Dva apokrifna jevangjelja," Starine (Jugoslovenska Akademija 
Znanosti i Umiejetnosti, Zagreb) 4 (1872): 130-46; I. la. Porfir'ev, Apokrificheskiia 
skazaniia o novozavetnykh litsakh i sobytiiakh, po rukopisiam Solovetskoj biblioteki, 
Sbomik Otdeleniia russkogo iazyka i slovesnosti Imperatorskoj Akademii Nauk, 
vol. 52, no. 4 (St. Petersburg: Tipografiia Imperatorskoj Akademii Nauk, 1890), 
164-97; M. N. Speranskij, "Slavianskiia apokrificheskiia evangeliia," in Trudy 
vos'mogo arkheologicheskogo s'ezda v Moskoe, 1890 (Moscow: Tovarishchestvo tip. 
A. I. Mamotova, 1895), 2:92-133, 144-55; and I. lagich, "Kriticheskia zametki k 
slavianskomu perevodu dvukh apokrificheskikh skazanij," Izvestiia Otdeleniia 
russkogo iazyka i slaoes-nosti Imperatorskoj Akademii Nauk (St. Petersburg), vol. 3, 
no. 3 (1898): 793-822. 

^ Thomson, "Apocrypha Slavica," 81. 

^^ Cf. ibid., 82. For tiie Czech versions, see also Jifi FraiAk, Katalog rukopisii 
kfiiffimicki knihovny, nyni deponovanych ve Stdtni knikovni Ceski socialisticki republiky 
V Praze (Prague: Stcltnf knihovna Cesk6 socialisticki republiky, 1980), 107, and 
Josef Truhl^, Katalog Ceskych rukopisii C. K. Vefejni a Universitni knihovny Praiski 
(Prague: Nikladem Cesk6 Akademie Cisaf e FrantiSka Josefa pro V6dy, Slovesnost 
a Umfinf, 1906), 24; for the Polish version, see Ronwn PolltJc, ed., PiSmiennictwo 
staropolskie (Paitetwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1%3), 229. 

^ The text published by Josip Hamm in Acta Pilati i Cvitje, Stari Pisd Hrvat- 
ski, vol. 40 (Zagreb: Jugoslavenska Akademija Znanosti i Umjetnosti, 1987), under 
the title Acta Pilati is a story of Pilate, not the Gospel of Nicodemus proper; simi- 
larly, G. n'inskij, "Apokrif 'Acta Pilati' v spiske Orbel'skoj Triodi Xin veka," 
Russkij filologicheskij vestnik 56 (1906): 213-17, prints a text combining the Anaphora 
and the Paradosis Pilati. 


models, it may not only illuminate the points of contact and the nature 
of interactions between Latin and Greek texts, but also bring to light 
some archaic features not attested in the extant versions of either 
source tradition. 

3. Conclusion 

Although patristic testimonies concerning the Acts of Pilate are scarce, 
what there is suggests that some Pilate apocrypha, and especially 
Pilate's correspondence with Rome, may have been known since Ter- 
tullian. In the fourth century, Eusebius describes a social and religious 
milieu from which the AP might have emerged: the anti-Christian cli- 
mate under Maximin Daia, intensified by the publication of the false 
"Memorials of Pilate." The AP may have originated in the ensuing 
controversies between Christianity and the Roman Empire, when phi- 
losophers and thiiUcers revived and adapted the arguments of earlier 
controversies between the Jews and the Christians concerning Jesus' 
divine origin and miracles. The evidence from the latter half of the 
fourth century (Epiphanius, pseudo-Chrysostom) indicates that the AP 
must already have been in circulation for some time since its texts have 
already diversified; moreover, that evidence suggests that it was used 
during the disputes about the fixation of the date for Easter. The fifth- 
century paschal liturgy of Jerusalem may also show traces of its in- 
fluence. By the sixth century, the AP is apparently known in the Latin 
West (Gregory of Tours), although still without the DI. The interest in 
the apocryphon did not, of course, continue steady throughout its early 
history. For example, to judge by the apparent silence of the written 
sources, the AP seems to have stayed dormant in Latin Christendom 
during the seventh and eighth centuries; and while in the ninth its 
popularity began to waken in the West, in the Greek-speaking world 
it remained dormant (cf. Photius) until the later Middle Ages. 

Valuable evidence for the early history of the AP and its dissemi- 
nation throughout Christendom emerges also from its extant textual 
traditions. Emanating from the ancestor of the extant Greek version A, 
early translations spread its influence throughout the Greco-Roman 
world and beyond. The earliest among them is, perhaps, the Latin 
translation preserved in the Vierma palimpsest; it was probably exe- 
cuted before or during the fifth century, the putative date of the 
palimpsest's lower writing. At that stage, the AP did not yet include 
the DI, which makes its earliest appeareince in the runth-century Latin 
manuscripts and is absent from all Eastern versions (with the exception 
of Greek B). Contemporary with the Latin may be the two Coptic 
translations, one of which has been tentatively placed, on linguistic 

Before and beyond the Medieval West 41 

grounds, in the fifth century. Perhaps a century later the apocryphon 
reached Armenian communities; probably by AD 600, it was translated 
into Armeruan. Copies of the first Georgian translation may have 
appeared in the eighth century and of the Syriac in the tenth. The 
manuscript containing the Palestinian Aramaic fragm«its is dated to 
the runth, but the translation itself may be older. Finally, the apocry- 
phon was read and translated from Latin into Slavonic in Croatia or 
Dalmatia since the eleventh or twelfth century; other Slavonic transla- 
tions, from the Greek AP A, were made in Bulgaria in the twelfth and 
again in the fourteenth. There is also some evidence that the AP, if not 
actually translated into Arabic and Ethiopic, exerted considerable influ- 
ence in both languages through the texts derived from or related to it. 

The process of translation often involved more than finding equiv- 
alents for the Greek lexicon and grammar. Many translators engaged 
in ideologically motivated revisions, ranging from siniple substitutions 
of better known names (as in the case of the Syriac names of the two 
thieves crucified with Christ) to ideologically motivated deletions of 
portions of the text (as the omission of the charge that Christ was bom 
of fornication in the Georgian text) to large-scale suppression of non- 
canonical matter (as in the Armenian versions ending in chap. 13). 
Common among them was also the practice of appending other Pilate 
apocrypha to the AP. 

The picture of the apocryphon's past as it emerges from the above 
survey of patristic and textual traditions is still only fragmentary. Gaps 
in the available data and in our understanding of what is extant are 
too large to permit a cor\fident reconstruction of a coherent pattern of 
the apocryphon's evolution through Christian antiquity and the medi- 
eval past. It is hoped, however, that current research of the interna- 
tional team of scholars working under the auspices of the Association 
pour I'etude de la litterature apocryphe chretieime will eventually dis- 
perse some of the shadows still concealing the apocryphon's path 
through early Christian history. 

The Evangelium Nicodemi 
in the Latin Middle Ages' 


j ^^ ^he Latin Evangelium Nicodemi (EN) has been the object of schol- 
\/> arly attention and critical inquiry ever since the Renaissance. 
V^ What attracted and continued to intrigue scholars over the cen- 
turies was the mystery of its origin in Christian antiquity; its subse- 
quent transmission <ind vicissitudes during the Middle Ages seem to 
have stirred relatively little interest. The present essay attempts to 
reverse this trend: it shifts the focus onto the Middle Ages and onto 
the EN's prominence in the medieval religious landscape. It argues 
that, although bom in late antiquity, the EN matured, flourished, and 
helped shape the European cultural heritage during the medieval peri- 
od. Drawing on heretofore untapped manuscript resources, it sheds 
light on the textual richness and complexity of the Latin apocryphon, 
explores medieval attitudes towards it, and surveys textual pathways 
of its influence on the religious culture of the medieval West.^ 

1. Textual traditions 

Throughout its long history in Latin Christendom, the EN developed 
a variety of textual forms, which we have only begim to disentangle.^ 

' I should like to thank Prof. Mark Golden, Prof. John Magee, Prof. A. G. 
Rigg, and especially R^mi Gounelle for their advice and help in the preparation 
of this essay. I should also like to acknowledge the assistance of the stajff at the 
Interlending and Document Supply Services, University of Winnipeg. 

^ Since this essay focuses primarily on textual traditions, it does not discuss 
the iconographic legacy of the EN. A list of major studies on the subject is, how- 
ever, included in Part 3 of the tiiematic bibliography at the end of this volume. 

' All manuscripts of the EN mentioned in this essay are listed amd briefly 
described in Zbigniew Izydorczyk, Manuscripts of the "Evangelium Nicodemi": A 
Census, Subsidia Mediaevalia, vol. 21 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval 
Studies, 1993). The work of assessing and classifying the manuscripts is still in 


In some of them, the EN acquired idiosyncratic language and factual 
details; in others, it absorbed additional texts, which altered it in scope 
and focus; and in still others, it became adapted to poetic, hagio- 
graphic, or encyclopedic contexts. The apocryphon's fecundity is hard- 
ly surprising. If the canonical gospels, transmitted with considerable 
concern for fidelity under the watchful eye of the church, developed a 
wide range of variant readings, it is no wonder that Latin apocrypha, 
such as the EN, copied under much less stringent conditions, tended to 
change and evolve rather easily. Scribes often felt it necessary to polish 
their style, grammar, or diction; to add what they considered over- 
looked or suppress what struck them as inappropriate; or to change 
the narrative or its theological imderpirmings.^ In this process of suc- 
cessive, gradual revisions, the underlying, original apocryphal texts 
tended to recede into the scribal past and, in a sense, into the abstract. 
What remained were only their allo-texts, transformed and sometimes 
on the verge of losing their original identity. 

1.1. The Vienna palimpsest 

Our earliest unambiguous evidence for the existence of a Latin transla- 
tion of the Greek Acts of Pilate, known in the late medieval and modem 
West as the Evangelium Nicodemi, comes from a fifth-century manu- 
script, Vienna, Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek MS. 563.^ The manu- 
script is a palimpsest: it preserves, below an eighth-century layer of 
excerpts from the fathers, a fifth-century stratum comprising — ^besides 
a handful of passages from the canonical Gospel according to Matthew 
and the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas — extensive fragments of 
the EN. No explicit reference to the EN in the Latin writings of the 
fathers antedates the lower script of the palimpsest, and no Latin 
father quotes from or unambiguously describes a text that might be 
identified as the EN. 

Two Latin writers may have alluded to Pilate's correspondence 
with the emperor, which was frequently appended to the EN in medi- 

progress and will likely take several yeeirs to complete. The ensuing essay pre- 
sents, therefore, only a preliminary overview of the material. 

* Marek Starowieyski, "Ewangelie apokryficzne," Znak 29 (1977): 527. 

^ The manuscript has been discussed by Guy PhiUppart, "Fragments palimp- 
sestes latins du Vindobonensis 563 (V^ sikie?). fivangile selon S. Matthieu. 
fivangile de I'enfance selon Thomas, fivangile de Nicod^me," Analecta Bollandiana 
90 (1972): 391-411, and Myriam Despineux, "Une Version latine palimpseste du 
V* siMe de I'fivangile de Nicod^me (Vienne, ONB MS 563)," Scriptorium 42 (1988): 
176-83. The text of the EN has been edited from this manuscript by Guy Philip- 
part, "Les Fragments palimpsestes de I'fivangile de Nicodfeme dans le Vindobonen- 
sis 563 (V* s.?)," Analecta Bollandiana 107 (1989): 171-88. 

Latin Middle Ages 45 

eval manuscripts. In his Apologeticum 5.2, Tertullian (b. ca. 160, d. after 
220) maintains that Tiberius received news "ex Syria Palaestina" ccmi- 
firming Christ's divinity, and elsewhere (21.24) he specifies that it was 
Pilate who sent the news.' Two centuries later, Augustine's contempo- 
rary, Paulus Orosius, alludes to a similar dispatch from Pilate to 
Tiberius in the Historiarum adversum paganos libri VII, chapter 7.47 His 
information was, however, second hand, derived most likely from 
Rufinus's translation of Eusebius of Caesarea's Ecclesiastical History 
2.2.1-2.' Tertullian's and Orosius's remarks suggest considerable 
antiquity for the tradition of Pilate's letters but are silent about the EN 
itself. Orosius's ultimate Greek source, Eusebius, does make several 
scattered allusions to some "hypomnfimata" of Pilate (1.9.3, 1.11.9, 
9.5.1, and 9.7.1),' and Rufinus not only translates them edl but even 
inserts an independent allusion in the apologetic speech of Ludan of 
Antioch (added to 9.6.3).^° Unfortunately, just as it is not possible, on 
the basis of Eusebius's references, to affirm that he indeed knew the 
text now extant in Greek manuscripts," so it is impossible, on the 
basis of Rufinus's translation, to draw any conclusion about knowledge 
of the Acts, in any linguistic version, in the West. 

It is not until the late sixth century that the EN leaves its first rec- 
ognizable imprint on Latin literature. Gregory of Tours (b. 538, d. 594), 
a bishop-historian, relates in his Decern libris historiarum 1.21 the story 
of the incarceration and deliverance of Joseph of Arimathea, "ut Gesta 
Pilati ad Tiberium imperatorem missa referunt" ("as the Acts of Pilate 
sent to emperor Tiberius report");^^ the same "gesta," he claims, 
"apud nos hodie retenentur scripta" (1.24; "are preserved, written 
down, among us today").^^ Thus, in the absence of any patristic attes- 

* Tertullian, Q. S. Fl. Tertulliani Apologeticum, ed. E. Dekkers, in Quinti Septim 
Florentis Tertulliani Opera, pt. 1, Opera catholica. Mversus Marcionem, CC SL, vol. 1 
(Tumhout: Brepols, 1954), 94-95 and 127, respectively. 

' Paulus Orosius, Pauli Orosii Historiarum adversum paganos libri VII, ed. 
Carolus Zangemeister, CSEL, vol. 5 (Vienna: apud C. Geroldi Filium Bibliopolam 
Academiae, 1882), 441. 

* Eusebius of Caesarea, Die Kirchengeschichte. Die lateinische Obersetzung des 
Rufinus, ed. Eduard Schwarz and Theodor Mommsen, 3 pts., Eusebius Werke, vol. 
2, GCS, vol. 9 (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1903-9), 1:111. 

' Ibid. 1:72, 80; 2:810, 814. 

'° Ibid. 2:813. 

" Jean-Daniel Ehibois, "Les Actes de Pilate au quatri^me sifede," Apocrypha -Le 
Champ des apocryphes 2, La Fable apocryphe 2 (1991): 88-93. 

" Gregory of Tours, Gregorii episcopi Turonensis Libri historiarum X, 2d ed., ed. 
Bruno Krv^ch and Wilhelmus Levison, MGH, Script, rer. Mer., vol. 1, pt. 1 (1951; 
repr., Hannover: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1965), 17-18. This passage on 
Joseph was copied as a preface to the EN in one of the manuscript traditions; see 
below, sect. 1.3.7. 

" Gregory of Tours, Libri historiarum X, 19. The authenticity of this passage. 


tation of the EN before the sixth century, the Vienna palimpsest re- 
mains the sole reliable witness to the emergence and early shape of the 
Latin EN. 

The palimpsest EN begins with a prologue in which Aeneas^* 
introduces himiself as discoverer and Greek translator of the original 
Hebrew document concerning Christ and dates his discovery to AD 425 
or 440.^^ A second prologue dates Christ's Passion and names Nico- 
demus as author of the work. The text proper comprises only the first 
part of the EN, called by Constantinus de Tischendorf Gesta Pilati and 
coextensive with the extant Greek Acts A;^^ it is preserved here in a 
fragmentary state. The Gesta consists of two major thematic sections: 
the trial before Pilate, culminating in the Crucifixion, and the imprison- 
ment and miraculous release of Joseph of Arimathea, with the subse- 
quent testimonies proving Christ's Ascension. The account of the 
Harrowing of Hell, or the Descensus Christi ad inferos (D/) — the third 
major section of later Latin versions — is absent from the palimpsest. 
The palimpsest may have lost some of its folios through accidental 
damage, or, more likely, the DI may have been absent from its Greek 
source; the DI is attested neither in the early Greek version A of the 
apocryphon nor in the Oriental recensions translated from it. 

This earliest Latin version of the EN shows, in its linguistic fea- 
tures, strong dependence on the Greek text. The translator followed the 
original slavishly, at times hellenizing his lexicon and reproducing 
Greek syntax at the expense of meaning.^'^ Yet, in spite of its flaws, 
that trar\slation had become the seed from which a rich Latin tradition 
subsequently emerged. 

1.2. Later Latin versions 

The process of revising the Latin EN must have beguai shortly after its 
translation from Greek, for texts preserved in the ninth-century codices 

clearly inspired by the EN, has been called into question by G. C. O'Ceallaigh, 
"Dating the Commentaries of Nicodemus," Harvard Theological Review 56 (1963): 
23 n. 11, who maintains that it is a later interpolation. However, the passage is 
preserved in the earliest codices of the Historiae, representing different lines of the 
work's textual transmission (Gregory of Tours, Libri historiarutn X, pp. xxiii-xxxv). 
If the story of Joseph is an interpolation, it must have been inserted very early, 
before the text began to diversify. 

" The name is not dearly legible in the manuscript; cf. Philippart, "Les Frag- 
ments," 175 n. 13. 

'^ O'Ceallaigh, "Dating the Commentaries," 49-50. 

^* Constantinus de Tischendorf, ed., Evangelia apocrypha, 2d rev. ed. (Leipzig: 
H. Mendelssohn, 1876), 333-88. 

^^ Despineux, "Une Version latine," 180. 

Latin Middle Ages 47 

— the earliest surviving, besides the palimpsest — differ not only from 
the Vienna version but from each other as well. Textual diversification 
continued, perhaps even intensified, in the first few centuries of the 
second millennium, producing a plethora of interrelated yet discrete 
medieval forms and versions. So far three major textual types have 
been tentatively distinguished on the basis of their common lexical and 
thematic characteristics: A, B, and C.^^ The distinction between A and 
B was drawn already by Ernst von Dobschiitz, who pointed out that 
the manuscripts used by Tischendorf for his critical edition of the EN 
represented two distinct recensions.^' Out of the two versions of 
chapters 1-16, Tischendorf constructed a single, eclectic text of the 
Gesta Pilati; the two versions of chapters 17-27, he printed separately as 
DI A and B. Tischendorf also used one manuscript of EN C,^° but 
neither he nor Dobschiitz recognized it as a separate text-type. 

1.2.1. Evangelium Nicodemi A 

Perhaps the most popular, because attested in the greatest number of 
manuscripts, were versions of type A.^^ A standard text of this type 
begins with the second prologue of the original translation (as reflected 
in the Vienna palimpsest), giving the date of Quist's Passion. In the 
account of the trial before Pilate and Crucifixion, the lexicon and syntax 
correspond to the palimpsest closely. This dose relationship is relaxed in 
the second thematic section, the story of Joseph of Arimathea (beginning 
in chap. 12), which diverges noticeably, abridging and summarizing 
various incidents. 

Early texts of type A differ among themselves in various details. 
Most of them belong to one of two subgroups: some date the Passion to 
the consulate "Rufini et Rubellionis," while others to ttie consulate 

'* Zbigniew Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," Manuscripta 
33 (1989): 169-91. 

^' Ernst von Dobschiitz, "Nicodemus, Gospel of," in A Dictionary of the Bible, 
ed. James Hastings (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1919), 3:545. Tischendorf's 
sources D^ (Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 326, saec. IX-X) and D^ (Rome, BibUo- 
teca dell'Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana MS. 1146, saec. XIV) repre- 
sent recension A; his A (Vatican City, Biblioteca Af>ostolica Vaticana [Bibl. Apost. 
Vat.l MS. Vat. lat. 4578, saec. XIV), B (Vatican City, Bibl. Apost. Vat. MS. Vat. lat. 
4363, saec. XH), and C (Venice, BibUoteca Nazionale Mardana MS. 4326 [Lat. XFV, 
43], saec. XFV-XV) recension B. 

^ His witness "Ambr.," i.e., Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana MS. O. 35 Sup. 
(saec. XrV). 

^' For a summary of this version, based on H. C. Kim, The Gospel of Nicode- 
mus: Gesta Salvatoris, Toronto Medieval Latin Texts, vol. 2 (Toronto: Pontifical 
Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1973), see the Introduction. I will dte the EN by 
chapter cind paragraph numbers. 


"Bassi et Tarquillionis." The differences between the two groups extend 
beyond the prologue, manifesting themselves most starkly in chapters 
1.6 to 3.1, in the form of omissions, additions, and independent lexical 
and stylistic choices.^ 

However, what constitutes the most significant departure from the 
Vieruia text is the inclusion and integration of the catabasis theme, the 
Descensus Christi ad inferos. Like the Gesta Pilati which it continues, the 
plot of the DI may have originated in the Greek-speaking world. Similar 
narratives found, for instance, in the fifth- or sixth-century homilies of 
pseudo-Eusebius of Alexandria and pseudo-Epiphanius are often as- 
sumed to have been derived from the Greek archetype of the DiP If 
such an archetypal narrative indeed existed, it must have circulated 
independently of the Greek Acts, for neither the oldest Greek versions 
nor the oldest Latin and Oriental translations contain any trace of it.^^ 
It is quite possible that the DI was first attached to the Gesta Pilati in 
Latin some time between the fifth and the ninth centuries. Whether it 
was translated from Greek specifically for this purpose, or whether it 

" For a more detailed discussion of the two subgroups and lists of early 
manuscripts that support them, see Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangelium 
Nicodemi," 178-SO. 

" Cf. Johann Carl Thilo, ed.. Codex apocryphus Novi Testamenti, vol. 1 (Leipzig: 
F. C. G. Vogel, 1832), cxix-cxx; Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha, Ixviii; Rid\ard 
Adalbert Lipsius, Die Pilattis-Akten kritisch untersucht (Kiel: Schwers'sche Buch- 
handlung, 1871), 7; Dobschutz, "Nicodemus, Gospel of," 545; J. A. MacCulloch, 
The Harroxving of Hell. A Comparative Study of an Early Christian Doctrine (Edin- 
burgh: T. & T. Clark, 1930), 1%. The pseudo-Eusebian homilies in question are 
"In Oiabolimi et Orcum" (in PG 86:383-404), "Oratio de adventu et annuntiatione 
Joannis (Baptistse) apud Inferos" (in PG 86:509-26), and "In sancta et magna para- 
sceve, et in sanctam passionem Domini" (in PG 62:721-24). Pseudo-Epiphanius's 
homily is entitled "Sacti Patris nostri Epiphanii episcopi Cypri oratio in divini 
corporis sepulturam Domini et Servatoris nostri Jesu Christi, et in Josephum qui 
fuit ab Arimathaea, et in Domini in infemum descensiun, post salutarem passio- 
nem admirabiliter factum" (in PG 43:439 A-64D). These homilies are described by 
MacCulloch, The Harrowing of Hell, 174-98. They were translated from Greek into 
Latin, Old Slavonic, Arabic, and Armenian. See Edward Kennard Rand, "Sermo 
de confusione diaboli," Modem Philology 2 (1904): 261-78; Sirarpie Der Nersessian, 
"An Armenian Version of the Homilies on the Harrowing of Hell," Dumbarton 
Oaks Papers 8 (1954): 203-24; idem, "A Homily on the Raising of Lazarus and the 
Harrowing of Hell," in Biblical and Patristic Studies in Memory of Robert Pierce 
Casey, ed. J. Neville Birdsall and Robert W. Thomson (Freiburg i. Br.: Herder, 
1%3), 219-34; Zbigniew Izydorczyk, "Two Newly Identified Manuscripts of the 
Sermo de confusione diaboli," Scriptorium 43 (1989): 253-55; and G. Lafontaine, "La 
Version arm^nienne du sermcw\ d'Eus^be d' Alexandrie 'sur la venue de Jean aux 
Enfers,' " Le Musion 91 (1978): 87-104. 

^* The Greek recension of the DI occurs only in late, revised versions of the 
Acts, apparently influenced by the Latin text; see Dobsd\utz, "Nicodemus, Gospel 
of," 545; R^mi Govmelle, "Recherches sur les Actes apocryphes de Pilate grecs, 
recension B," 2 vols. (M^moire pr^senti pour I'obtention du Dipldme d'^tudes 
Approfondies, Universi« Paris X-Nanterre, 1991) 2:93-%. 

Latin Middle Ages 49 

had existed in Latin before coalescing with ti\e apocryphon of the 
Passion, remains a matter of speculation. 

There is, however, some evidence to suggest that the surmised 
translation of the "descensus" narrative did not merge witti ti\e Latin 
Gesta without some prior interaction with other Latin texts. The story of 
Setii's journey to paradise in search of the oil of mercy for his ailing 
father — absent from the pseudo-Eusebian and pseudo-Epiphanian 
accounts but present in the Latin DI — ^is taken directly from the Latin 
translation of the Greek Life of Adam and Eve. In particular, ti\e Archangel 
Michael's prophecy of the coming of ttie Messiah {EN 19.1, "nullo mode 
poteris ex eo acdpere ... ad arborem misericordiae") corresponds almost 
verbatim to that which occurs in the Latin Vita Adae et Evae.^ It is 
unlikely tiiat the prophecy was incorporated already into the Greek 
narrative of Christ's Descent because the correspondences between the 
Latin Vita and the Latin DI are so dose that they cannot be explained by 
parallel translations from their respective Greek sources.^ The DI must, 
therefore, have been amplified with the Seth story and Michad's prophe- 
cy only after both were made available in Latin.^ 

The relationship between the EN and another Latin text, the so- 
called pseudo-Augustinian "Sermo 160: De pascha U," has not yet 
been satisfactorily explained.^ In one of its earliest manuscripts. 

^ Wilhelm Meyer, "Vita Adae et Evae," Abhandlun^n der philosophisch-philo- 
logischen Classe der kordglich hayerischen Akademie der Wissenschafien, vol. 14 (Munich: 
Verlag der K. Akademie, in Commission bei G. Franz, 1878), 187-250. Altiiou^ tiie 
known Greek texts of the Life do not contain this prophecy, its occurrence in a 
Georgian translation, apparently based on the same Greek recension as the Latin 
one, suggests that it must have been present in em early Greek version. 

^ The prophecy in the Greek version of the DI, part of Acts of Pilate B, is later 
than its Latin coimterpart and appctrently derivative; see Marcel Nagel, 'Xa Vie 
greque d'Adam et d'feve. Apocalypse de Moise," Th6se pr^sent^ devant llJniver- 
sit6 de Strasbourg II (University de Lille HI: Service du reproduction des theses, 
1974), 1:165. 

^ For a detailed discussion of the relationships among the various versions 
of tiie EN and the Vita Adae et Evae, see Nagel, "La vie greque," 1:159-75. Nagel 
offers a convincing critique of an earlier opinion, first expressed by Meyer «md 
echoed by many later scholars, that Michael's prophecy was interpolated into the 
Setti passage cifter the latter had become part of \he DI and tfiat it was subse- 
quently transplanted back into tiie Vita. I am indebted to R^mi Gounelle for 
bringing Nagel's dissertation to my attention. 

^ The "Sermo" has been edited by D. Ozimic, Der pseudo-augiistinische Sermo 
CLX . . . EHssertationen der Universitat Graz, no. 47 (Graz, 1979), 17-36; and by 
J. P. Migne with Q\e works of Augustine (PL 39:2059-61) and Martin of Laon (PL 
208:925-32). The bulk of section two of the "Sermo," as given by Migne, is absent 
from d\e Chicago, Newberry Library MS. 1, fols. 90r-91v (saec. DC), discussed 
below, but occurs in three homilies of Eusebius "GaUicanus": "De pascha, I" 
(Eusebius "Gallicanus," Collectio homiliarum, de qua critice disseruit loh. Leroy, ed. 
Fr. Glorie, 2 vols., CC SL, vols. 101 and lOlA ITumhout Brepols, 1970-11, 1:141- 


Chicago, Newberry Library MS. 1, fols. 90r-91v (saec. IX), the "Sermo" 
begins with a fragment of a homily by Gregory the Great; this is fol- 
lowed by a series of rhetorical questions and apostrophes conveying 
the infernal legions' astonishment and confusion at Christ's appearance 
in hell and their chastisement of Satan for causing Christ's death. The 
text ends with a long prayer of the patriarchs and prophets for deliver- 
ance and with an account of the Resurrection. Portions of the "Sermo" 
correspond to the DI not only by virtue of common motifs (terrified 
questioning, rebuke of Satan, plea for deliverance) but in actual phras- 
ing as well. The pseudo-Augustiruan text shows close verbal parallels 
to parts of three chapters of the EN: 22.1.22-34 ("Unde es tu, lesu, tam 
fortis . . . totius mundi potestatem accepturus esses."), 23.1.7-36 ("Ecce 
iam iste lesus diuinitatis suae fulgore . . . impios et iniustos perdidisti."), 
and 24.1.19-20 ("Aduenisti redemptor mundi . . . factis adimplesti."). 
Even if the DI was translated from Greek into Latin, it could have 
acquired these passages at either its Greek or Latin stage, for rhetori- 
cally and thematically similar texts were available in both linguistic 
areas.^^ If the passages were part of the original Greek DI, then the 
Latin translation of the DI was most probably the source of the 
"Sermo." Assuming that D. N. Dumville's dating of the liturgical 
drama from the Book of Cerne, based on the "Sermo," to the early 
eighth century is correct,^" it would be reasonable to expect that the 
Latin DI was in circulation in the seventh. However, the absence of the 
corresponding passages from the homilies of pseudo-Eusebius of 
Alexandria and pseudo-Epiphanius, allegedly the earliest witnesses to 
the Greek DI,^^ might suggest that the questions, the rebuke, and the 
plea are of immediate Latin origin. If so, the "Sermo" or, more likely, 
some earlier texts from which it was culled may have also inspired 
parts of the DI; both the "Sermo" and the DI could, under this hy- 
pothesis, be reflexes of an earlier Latin tradition. 

43); "De pascha, lA" (ibid. 1:145-50); and "De resurrectione Domini" (ibid. 2:881- 
86). For earlier editions of these sermons, see ibid. 1:138-39 and 2:878-79. 

^' For the Greek sources, see MacCulloch, The Harrowing of Hell, 77-80, and 
J. Kroll, Gott und Holle. Der Mythos votn Descensuskampfe (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 
1932), 50-57. In Latin, the already noted sermons of Eusebius "Gallicanus" bear 
a strong resemblance to both the "Sermo" (into which they were interpolated 
from at least the tenth century) and the corresponding sections of. the EN. 

^ D. N. Dumville, "Liturgical Drama and Panegyric Responsory from the 
Eighth Century? A Re-examination of the Origin and Contents of the Ninth-Cen- 
tury Section of the Book of Cerne," Journal of Theological Studies 23 (1972): 374-406. 

^* The pseudo-Epiphanian sermon includes a series of rhetorical questions, 
but they differ from those in the "Sermo" and the DI. 

Latin Middle Ages 51 

1.2.2. Evangelium Nicodemi B 

The second textual type of the EN, known as EN B, emerges from sev- 
eral manuscripts of the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries.^^ In contrast 
to EN A, it has retained not the second but the first prologue of the 
textual form represented by the Vienna palimpsest, sometimes pre- 
ceded by a homiletic preface, "Audistis, fratres karissimi, quae acta 
sunt . . ." ("You have heard, most beloved brothers, what took place . . ."). 
It reproduces — at times verbatim, at times paraphrasing — ^not only the 
trial and Crucifixion scenes of the palimpsest, as does tj^e A, but also 
the accounts of Joseph of Arimathea and of the three rabbis, both con- 
siderably abridged in A. However, the majority of B manuscripts show 
two apparently deliberate omissions in the text of the Gesta: one 
excising portions of the proceedings before Pilate (chaps. 2.3-4.5) and 
replacing them with the sentence, "Quid multa? iam omnia nota sunt 
uobis a sancto euuangelio" ("What more needs to be said? All these 
things are already known to you from the holy gospel"),^ and the 
other deleting the accounts of the release of Barabbas, the Crucifixion, 
and Christ's death (chaps. 9-11). The redactor of this expurgated 
version was evidently interested in additional, extra-canonical details 
concerning the Passion and death of Christ. 

In the DI, the distance between types A and B increases even fur- 
ther; in comparison with A, B expands the discovery of Leucius and 
Carinus, condenses and rearranges elements of their report, adds such 
details as the arrival of the Good Thief in hell, and expunges Hell's 
lament and the meeting with Enoch and Elijah in paradise. 

1.2.3. Evangelium Nicodemi C 

The third of the tentatively identified types of the EN, type C, appears 
to be related to A, although this relatior\ship rests primarily on the 
coincidence of narrative contours, with lexicon, style, and minor factual 
details showing wide variance. This type occurs in seven codices, the 

^^ Seventeen manuscripts are listed in Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evange- 
lium Nicodemi," 181. To that list should be added Prague, Stdtni knihovna MS. IX. 
F. 4 (saec. XII-XIV). A text of type B has been edited from Cambridge, Corpus 
Christi College (CCCC) MS. 288, fols. 39r-54r (saec. XIH), by Katherine Anne 
Smith Collett, "The Gospel of Nicodemus in Anglo-Saxon England" (Ph.D. diss.. 
University of Pennsylvarua, 1981), and, with extensive discussion of the manu- 
script and text, by R^mi Gounelle, "Recherches sur le manuscrit CCCC 288 des 
Acta Pilati" (M^moire prfeent^ pour I'obtention te la mciitrise de lettres dassiques. 
University de Paris X-Nanterre, 1989); I cite from the latter. 

^ Gounelle, "Recherches sur le manuscrit," 44-45. 


earliest two with connections to Spain.^ The same connection is ako 
suggested by the form of the name given to the Good Thief in C, 
Limas. This name is exceedingly rare: apart from the EN C, it occurs, 
as far as I know, only in a Spanish illustration of the Crucifixion in the 
Gerona codex (an. 975) of the commentary on the Apocalypse by an 
Asturian monk, Beatus of Liebana. In that illustration, possibly the 
work of En or Ende, a devout woman who collaborated with presbyter 
Emeterius on decoration of the codex, the name "Limas" identifies the 
Bad Thief (the Good Thief is called Gestas here).^^ Although the Gero- 
na codex reverses the Thieves' names, it is so far the only other wit- 
ness to the name "Limas" and, therefore, a further link between EN C 
and the Iberian peninsula. 

Recension C opens in the middle of the second prologue with the 
characteristic incipit "Quod inventum est in publicis codicibus praeto- 
rii Pontii Pilati . . ." ("That which has been found in public codices of 
Pontius Pilate's council-chamber . . ."). For the most part, it retains the 
episodes of A and recounts them in the same order but adds many 
details absent from both A and B. It reports, for instance, that Pilate's 
messenger was called Romanus, that the standards which bowed 
before Jesus were crowned with imperial images, that Christ dined 
with Lazarus after raising him from the dead, and so on.^ After 
chapter 12, the text is frequently abridged and occasionally rearranged. 
For example, chapters 13.2, 15, 16.1, 16.3, 19.1, and 20.3 are foreshort- 
ened, while chapters 14.3, 16.2, 18.1-3, 21.3, and 25-26 (meeting with 
Enoch, Elijah, and the Good Thief) are entirely omitted. Considerable 
rearrangement of material occurs in chapters 2.4, 14.2, 22, 23, and 27. 

C's most significant narrative departure from A consists in an 
additional chapter reporting Pilate's consultations with the Jews in the 
synagogue (chap. 28 in Tischendorf's edition). At his command, the 
high priests consult the holy books and discover that their "bible" 
points to Christ as the long-awaited Messiah. They admit their guilt 
but adjure Pilate not to reveal to anybody Christ's divine nature. The 
chapter usually concludes with a chronology from Adam to Christ, 

^ The manuscripts are given by Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangelium 
Nicodemi," 183; to that list should be added Lisbon, Biblioteca National MS. 
Alcoba^a CCLXXXV/419 (saec. Xn/2). Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Ara- 
g6n MS. RipoU 106 (saec. X), once belonged to the Benedictines at Ripoll, dioc. 
Vich; Paris, Biblioth^que nationale (BN) MS. n. a. lat. 2171 (saec. XI), written in 
Visigothic script, was at the Benedictine monastery at Silos, dioc. Burgos. 

'^ The illustration is reproduced in John Williams, Early Spanish Manuscript 
Illumination (New York: G. Braziller, 1977), plate 29; the Gerona codex and illumi- 
nations are discussed in Beatus of Liebana, Beati in Apocalypsin libri duodecim. 
Codex Gerundensis (Madrid: Edilan, 1975). 

^ Idiosyncratic passages occur also in chaps. 5.1, 11.2, and 19.1. 

Latin Middle Ages 53 

showing that Christ came indeed at the precise juncture in time speci- 
fied by the holy books. The entire episode demonstrates that the 
Pharisees recognized Christ's divinity yet for political reasons ma- 
liciously concealed the truth. The motif of the Jews' wickedness, so 
strongly emphasized in the trial scene, is here enhanced and focused 
on the priestly cast. This chapter agrees so well with the preceding sec- 
tions that, although it occurs only in relatively few mianuscripts, it has 
been considered an integral part of the apocryphon by most of its edi- 
tors, from Melchior Lotter (d. 1549) to Tischendorf. 

1.2.4. Other versions 

Each of the three major textual traditions was in the process of contin- 
ual change, under constant pressure from scribes and compilers. Not 
infrequently, texts representative of the major types were fused togeth- 
er, resulting in hybrid versions. One such mixed version, preserved in 
fourteen manuscripts, shows features of recensions A and C; its oldest 
known manuscript is Troyes, Biblioth^que muiucipale (Bibl. mun.) MS. 
1636 (saec. XII), and I refer to it as the Troyes redaction.^^ UrUike the 
other versions, it concludes the second prologue with a statement that 
the Latin translation was made at the instance of emperor Theodosius. 
Through much of the Gesta, it reads with C, albeit not consistently, 
retaining many of C's idiosyncratic passages; when it draws on A, it is 
often (but not always) to supply the passages excised from C. The DI, 
highly abridged in C, is restored on the basis of A; however, it ends 
with perhaps the most characteristic passage of C, namely, the discus- 
sions between Pilate and the high priests in the temple. 

Any text type could become the basis for abridged, amplified, or 
restructured versions, and a number of such revised versions survive. 
Some, like the text edited by David J. G. Lewis,'*® begin only with the 
story of Joseph of Arimathea and often compress parts of the text. 
Others add new characters and entire episodes to the story, as does 
Oxford, Bodleian Library (Bodl. Lib.) MS. Addit. A 367, fols. 2r-25v 
(saec. Xn ex.), which expands the list of witnesses testifying about 
Christ's miracles,^' or Paris, BN MS. lat. 5559, fols. 2r-50v (saec. XV 
ex.), which interpolates discussions between Judas and the priests as 
well as the arrest of Christ. Still others abridge or rearrange portions of 

^ This redaction of the EN has not been edited. For a list of its manuscripts, 
see Zbigniew Izydorczyk, "The Latin Source of an Old French Gospel of Nicode- 
mus," Revue d'histoire des textes 25 (1995): 265-79. 

^ David J. G. Lewis, ed., "A Short Latin Gospel of Nicodemus Written in 
Ireland," Peritia 5 (1986): 262-75. 

^ Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," 171-72. 


the text or, as do some manuscripts of B type, delete the episodes 
recounted in the canonical gospels. 

There is some evidence that at various times critically minded 
Latin scribes may have compared and revised their copies of the EN 
agaiiist Greek exemplars. Some of the earliest Latin manuscripts, for 
instance, include in chapters 1.2 and 4.2 readings cor\sonant with the 
Greek but not present in the palimpsest. Therefore either the palimp- 
sest represents an already revised, pruned Latin version of an earlier, 
fuller text, or those additional readings were inserted as a result of 
subsequent comparisons with Greek versior\s.^ More evidence of 
such comparative activity may be provided by three fifteenth-century 
manuscripts from central Europe which include a full translation of the 
Greek conclusion to the Acts of Pilate, chapter 16.7-8. This conclusion 
was part of the original Latin translation, and its small fragments are 
preserved in the palimpsest. It seems to have disappeared, however, 
from later Latin versions, with only a few sentences surviving in texts 
of type B. And yet in Prague, Statru kruhovna MS. XX. A. 7, fol. 139rb-va 
(saec. XIV-XV), and Cracow, Biblioteka JagielloAska MS. 2724, fol. 301v 
(saec. XV/1), the complete Latin text of that conclusion resurfaces 
immediately after the Epistola Pilati ad Claudium (£P), which follows a 
complete text of the EN; in Cracow, Biblioteka Jagiellortska MS. 1509, 
fol. 94r (saec. XV ex.), a somewhat abridged version of the passage in 
question actually concludes chapter 16. While it is possible that the 
three manuscripts reflect the original Latin text, suppressed in the 
main lines of transmission but still available in the fourteenth century, 
it is perhaps more likely that the conclusion was translated anew and 
appended to the Latin text at a later date. 

In spite of their differences, all Latin versions seem to share 
common Latin ancestry. Their genetic relatedness is admittedly more 
pronounced in the Gesta than in the DI, for through the Gesta they all 
inherit some features of the original translation as preserved in the 
Vienna palimpsest. The accounts of the Descent into Hell are less con- 
gruent but not dissimilar; individual episodes may be rearranged, but 
they add up to essentially the same story told in often similar terms. 
Some redactions may have been corrected against Greek texts, but at 
present there is no evidence that the apocryphon in its entirety was 
translated from Greek into Latin more than once during the Middle 

Ibid., 179-«1. 

Latin Middle Ages 55 

1.3. Appendices to the Evangelium Nicodemi 

Published editions of the EN, with their dearly delimited text, might 
convey an impression that throughout its long history the apocryphon 
remained constant and stable. Yet even a cursory look at its extant 
manuscripts reveals the contrary. If medieval texts in general thrived 
in variance and plurality, then those related to, but not absorbed by, 
the scriptviral canon flourished in a state of continual metamorphosis. 
The medieval EN was, in fact, fluid, flexible, and adaptable. Ehiring the 
period of its early growth, the apocryphon focused on the Passion and 
Resurrection of Jesus, presented in a highly dramatic, dialogic maimer. 
But as the text continued to expand beyond the DI, successive addi- 
tions began to refocus the entire composition by shifting attention to 
the historical context and consequences of the Easter drama. Those 
additions replaced histrionic discourse of the core apocryphon with 
narration, exposition, or scriptural argimient, whichever seemed most 
expedient. In spite of these thematic and rhetorical differences between 
the ancient text and its later appendices, medieval writers and readers 
perceived them all as somehow belonging together, as parts of one and 
the same, rather loosely defined, work. 

1.3.1. Epistola Pilati ad Claudium 

The most common extension of, or appendix to, the EN, found in all 
but three pre-eleventh-century manuscripts with more or less complete 
text, is the Epistola Pilati ad Claudium}^ The presence of the £P in the 
majority of early copies indicates that this spurious letter became asso- 
ciated with the apocryphon at an early date, perhaps at the same time 
the apocryphon acquired the title identifying it as an official imperial 
document found in Pilate's archives, 'Tn nomine sanctae Trinitatis 
incipit gesta Saluatoris Domini nostri Ihesu Christi quae inuenit Theo- 
dosius magnus imperator in pretorio Pontii Pilati in codicibus pub- 
licis" (Laon, Bibl. mun. MS. 265, fol. 2r [saec. DC]; "In the name of the 
Holy Trinity here begins the Acts of our Lord Savior Jesus Christ, 

*' Mauritius Geerard, Clavis apocryphorum Novi Testamenti, Corpus Christitmo- 
rum. Series Apocryphorum (Turnhout: Brepols, 1992), no. 64. This letter has been 
published as peirt of the EN by Thilo, Codex apocryphus, 796-800, Tischendorf, 
Evangelia apocrypha, 413-16 (as chap. 13 of the DI A or 29 of the EN), and Kim, 
The Ck}sp€l of Nicodemus, 49-50 (as chap. 28). For a list of pre-eleventh-century 
manuscripts, see Izydorczyk, "The Unfjimiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," 178. Early 
m<inuscripts with the complete text which do not include the EP are London, 
British Ubrary (BL) MS. Royal 5 E. Xm, fols. 82r-100r (saec. DC ex.), and Paris, BN 
MS. n. a. lat. 1605, fols. 4r-16v (saec. IX ex.); the conclusion of Orleans, Bibl. mun. 
MS. 341 (289), pp. 415-44 (saec. IX-X), illegible on microfilm, may also lack it. 


which Theodosius, the great emperor, found in public codices in 
Pilate's council-chamber"). Both the title and the EP are standard fea- 
tures of the EN as early as the ninth century. Pilate's letter is addressed 
to Claudius (in some late manuscripts to Tiberius) and briefly reports 
the events that took place in Jerusalem. It also alludes to the prophe- 
cies of the coming of the Messiah, lays the blame for the death of 
Christ on the Jews, eind expresses Pilate's conviction that Christ was 
indeed sent by God and truly arose from the dead. The EP marks the 
end of the dialogic, dramatic apocryphon, introducing narrative and 
expository modes of discourse. Thematically, however, it still coheres 
well with the pseudo-gospel. Its indictment of the Jews echoes and 
reinforces their negative portrayal in the trial scenes (and in chap. 28 
of EN C). Furthermore, ttie enormity of their actions is brought into 
sharp relief by the contrast with the positive, pro-Christian self-portrait 
of Pilate, which resonates in concert with that suggested by the EN. 

Throughout the Middle Ages, the EP enjoyed wide circulation also 
independently of the EN. With its credibility supported by Tertullian's 
and Orosius's allusions to Pilate's dispatch to Rome, it was viewed as 
a historical document, as a pagcin, non-partisan confirmation of the 
historicity of the central events of the Redemption. It makes an appear- 
ance in the Latin and Greek versions of the apocryphal Passio sanc- 
torum apostolorum Petri et Pauli (the so-called Marcellus text), chapters 
19-21, of an early but uncertain date.*^ Later it was frequently incor- 
porated into medieval chrorucles, such as those of Ivo of Chartres, 
Martinus Polonus,*^ and Matthew of Paris,^ and during the Renais- 
sance it became a common feature of epistolary collections, together 
with the letters of Lentulus and Abgarus. However, this independence 
did not prevent medieval scribes from perceiving and treating the EP 
as an integral part of the EN. Their attitude is reflected in manuscript 
layouts. The transition from the EN to the EP is usually accomplished 
by means of a connecting sentence, such as "Et post haec ipse Pilatus 
scripsit epistolam ad urbem Romam Claudio dicens . . ." (Laon, Bibl. 
mun. MS. 265, fol. 34r; "And thereafter Pilate himself wrote a letter to 
the city of Rome, saying to Claudius . . ."), or "Et post uolens caesari 
omnia renunciare, ipse Pilatus scripsit epistolam ad urbem Romam 
Claudio imperatori dicens . . ." (Paris, BN MS. lat. 3784, fol. 112v, saec. 
XI; "And afterwards, wishing to announce everything to the emperor. 

*^ Richard Adalbert Lipsius and Maximilian Bonnet, Acta apostolorum apocry- 
pha, pt. 1 (1891; repr., Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1959), 134-39. 

*^ Cf. Thilo, Codex apocryphus, 796-97. 

** Matthew of Paris, Matthasi Parisiensis, monachi Sancti Albani, Chronica majora, 
vol. 1, The Creation to A.D. 1066, ed. Henry Richeirds Luaird, Rer. Brit. M. A. 
Script., vol. 57 (London: Longman, 1872), 95-96. 

Latin Middle Ages 57 

Pilate himself wrote a letter to the city of Rome, saying to emperor 
Claudius . . ."). Occasionally, the EP is marked with a separate rubric 
or title in the margin,*^ but more typically it is not visibly set off from 
the rest of the text. Colophons or closing statements for the EN, if 
present, usually follow the EP, making it into an integral part of the 

1.3.2. Cura sanitatis Tiberii 

The EN was often expanded beyond the EP with the so-called Cura 
sanitatis Tiberii, a rapid, uneven narrative, with a few drawn-out but 
nondramatic speeches.^ Its stylistic distance from the main body of 
the apocryphon is matched by its thematic divergence — it is no longer 
concerned with the Passion of Jesus but with its effects: the temporal 
rewards for those who believed in Christ and temporal punishments 
for those who opposed him. It narrates the Roman mission of Volusia- 
nus to find the healer Jesus Christ, who might cure emperor Tiberius 
of his illness. Having learned about Christ's death, Volusianus con- 
demns and imprisons Pilate and returns to Tiberius with Veronica and 
her image of Christ. Tiberius honors the image and is instantly healed; 
he becomes a champion of Christianity and executes all its detractors. 
Soon afterward he himself dies "credens in Christo" ("believing in 

*' For instance, in Berlin, Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kultuibesitz (SBPK) 
MS. Theol. lat. fol. 241, fol. 136ra (saec. XV); Bordeaux, Bibl. mun. MS. Ill, fol. 
284ra (saec. XIV); or Brussels, Biblioth^ue royale Albert F MS. 1079-84, fol. 
115rb (saec. XXD). 

*^ The comment in the codex Halensis, now Halle/Saale, Archiv der Francke- 
'schen Stiftungen MS. P 7 (saec. XV), about the independence of ttie EP from the 
EN, quoted by Thilo, Codex apocryphus, 796, is rather atypical for the medieval 

*^ Geerard, Clavis, no. 69. The Cura has been studied and edited by Ernst von 
Dobschiitz, Christusbilder. Untersuchungen zur christlichen Legende, Texte vmd Unter- 
suchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlicher Literatur, vol. 18, N.F., vol. 3 
(Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1899), 209-14, 157*»-203»». It was also printed by Pietro 
Francisco Foggini, De Romano Divi Petri itinere (Horence: Typ. Manniano, 1741), 
37-46; J. D. Mansi, ed., Stephani Baluzii Tutelensis Miscellanea novo ordine digesta 
. . . (Lucca: V. Jvmctinius, 1764), 4:55-60; Anton Schonbach, review of Exmngelia 
apocrypha, edited by Constantinus de Tischendorf, Anzeiger fur deutsches Altertum 
und deutsche Litteratur 2 (1876): 173-80; and Etienne Darley, Les Acta Salvatoris. Un 
tvangile de la passion & de la resurrection et une mission apostolique en Aquitaine 
(Paris: A. Picard & Fils, 1913), 47-51. 

In two apparently related manuscripts — Prague, Stitni knihovna MS. XIV. E. 
10, fols. 59ra-61rb (saec. XIV/1), and Vatican City, Bibl. Apost. Vat. MS. Reg. lat. 
648, fols. 48r ff . (saec. XII) — a further text, De Nerone et Domitiano (inc. "Nero fedt 
primam persecutionem," expl. "qui erat in exilium missus"), is added after the 
Cura, probably attracted to it by the subject matter. 


Christ"). The work ends with a rather poorly integrated episode in 
which Peter confirms before Nero the truth of Pilate's letter (in most 
manuscripts quoted in full at this point) and refutes the mendacious 
claims of Simon Magus. Nero again exiles Pilate, who dies wretchedly, 
and then Nero himself meets an inglorious end. 

The Cura undermines the sympathetic, pro-Christian conception of 
Pilate that emerges from the EN and the EP. In contrast to Eastern 
churches, medieval Latin Christianity considered Pilate guilty of com- 
plicity in the death of Jesus and viewed him not as a saint but as a vil- 
lain. This negative perception is reflected in the Cura, which shows 
Pilate condemned, imprisoned, exiled, and eventually committing sui- 
cide. It is, therefore, a corrective for what Western Christianity saw as 
an unduly charitable portrayal of Pilate. The resulting loss of an 
important pagan witness and convert to Christianity is more than com- 
pensated for by the introduction of Tiberius as an imperial defender of 
Christ. On the one hand, the conversion of Tiberius, of which his heal- 
ing is a visible sign, demonstrates the power of Christ to bend the 
minds and hearts of supreme rulers of this world; on the other hand, 
his earthly status and authority enhance the temporal credibility and 
respectability of the relatively new Christian faith and foreshadow the 
conversion of the empire as a whole. 

The Cura is probably later than the EP. It may have been com- 
posed in northern Italy between the fifth and the eighth centuries, the 
former being the approximate date of the Latin translation of the EN, 
the latter the date of the earliest manuscript of the Cura (Lucca, Biblio- 
teca Capitolare MS. 490).^ A composite piece, the Cura is textually 
indebted to the EN, the Marcellus Passio sanctorum apostolorum Petri et 
Pauli, and perhaps other sources as well.^^ Its indebtedness to the EN 
consists partly in the presence of the same characters and partly in the 
echoes of the events treated at length in the apocryphon. The figures 
common to the EN and the Cura include Veronica — a witness to 
Christ's miracles in the former and the owner of Christ's image in the 
latter — and the rabbis who bring the news about Christ's Ascension in 
the EN and testify before Volusianus in the Cura.^ A major episode 
borrowed by the Cura from the pseudo-gospel is the story of Joseph of 
Arimathea. In his report to Volusianus, Joseph speaks of Christ's 
entombment and the subsequent Christopharues, conflating in the 

** In this manuscript, as in some later ones, the Cura stands as an indepen- 
dent work, unconnected with the EN; it was printed by Meinsi. On the dating and 
localization of the Cura, see Dobschiitz, Christusbilder, 213-14. 

*' Dobschiitz, Christusbilder, 200-203. 

™ Their number in the Cura is increased through confusion with the twelve 
righteous Jews who spoke before Pilate. 

Latin Middle Ages 59 

process his own Christophany in prison with that of the three rabbis 
who saw him on Mount Malec. Although the Cura is not entirely 
accurate in its rendition of details from the EN, it was doubtlessly 
inspired by it. To the Passio sanctorum apostolorum Petri et Pauli, chap- 
ters 15-21,^^ the Cura owes the closing episode with Nero and Simon 
Magus and, possibly, the letter of Pilate to Claudius. 

In numerous manuscripts, the Cura and the EN are more than 
contiguous — they are merged into a single text. Their integration came 
about gradually. In two of the earliest manuscripts in which the two 
occur together — Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Arag6n MS. RipoU 
106, fols. 136r-39r (saec. X), and Eiiisiedeln, StiftsbibUothek MS. 326, 
fols. 29v-34v (saec. IX or X) — they are adjacent but still discrete: both 
the end of Pilate's letter, which continues the EN without a break, and 
the beginning of the Cura are clearly marked. From the eleventh 
century onward, however, the Cura appears completely fused with the 
preceding EP by means of a transitional sentence deictically anchored 
in the latter: "Hanc Pilatus Claudio direxit adhuc uiuente Tiberio 
imperatore licet grauissimo laborante morbo . . ." (Berkeley, University 
of California, Bancroft Library MS. UCB 20, fol. 48r, saec. XII; "Pilate 
sent this to Claudius while Tiberius was still alive although suffering 
from a most severe illness . . ."). This connecting sentence, in the 
absence of a separate title, suppresses the independent identity of the 
Cura and subordinates it to the EN. Their fusion is often confirmed by 
colophons and closing statements that follow the Cura: more often than 
not those statements announce the conclusion of the EN, as for instance 
in Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria MS. 2601, fol. 127v (saec. XV), 
"Explicit libellus passionis salvatoris et Domini nostri Yesu Christi" 
("Here ends the book of Passion of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ"); 
Cambridge, University Library MS. Dd. 3. 16, fol. 31rb (saec. XTV), 
"Explicit ewangelium Nichodemi . . ." ("Here ends the Gospel of Nico- 
demus . . ."); and London, Lincoln Inn Library MS. Hale 73 (saec. XTV), 
"Epistola Nichodemi finit" ("The letter of Nicodemus ends here"). 
Such an inclusive perception of the EN, EP, and Cura is also reflected 
in the editio princeps of the EN: in 1473 an Augsburg printer, Giinther 
Zainer, published the three under the single titie Euangelium Nichodemi. 
Although he broke the entire text into three large paragraphs (begin- 
ning in the second prologue, in chapter 11.3, and in chapter 27.1, 
respectively), there is no indication that he perceived them as discrete, 
independent works.^^ 

^' Lipsius and Bonnet, Acta apostolorum apocrypha, 133-39. 
'^ The editio princeps has been reprinted with modem division into para- 
graphs by Achim Masser and Max Siller, eds.. Das Evangelium Nicodemi in 


1.3.3. Vindicta Salvatoris 

The Cura sanitatis Tiberii was one of the sources of another text on 
conversion and vengeance which hovered on the fringes of the EN. 
Composed possibly ca, AD 700 in southern Gaul, the Vindicta Salvatoris 
consists of two superficially connected narratives.^ One tells of the 
healing of Titus, king of Aquitaine, who believes in Christ after hearing 
about him from Nathan, a Jewish emissary to Rome. Thankful for the 
miracle, Titus besieges and destroys Jerusalem, the site of the Lord's 
Passion. The other narrative relates the condemnation of Pilate by 
Velosianus and the healing of Tiberius by the image of Christ. In 
Joseph of Arimathea's testimony before Velosianus concerning the 
Resurrection of Jesus (chap. 21), the Vindicta is much closer to the EN 
than to the Cura; in fact, it quotes verbatim parts of Joseph's account of 
his Christophany and release from prison {EN 15.6). 

Two of the earliest manuscripts of the Vindicta — Saint-Omer, Bibl. 
mun. MS. 202, fols. 20v-25v (saec. IX), and Paris, BN MS. lat. 5327, fols. 
55r-61v (saec. X) — contain also copies of the EN. In the Saint-Omer 
manuscript, the Vindicta is separated from the EN by the interposed 
Passio s. Margaritas; in the Paris codex, it is adjacent to the closing 
statement of the EN, "Explicit gesta Domini Salvatoris" ("Here ends 
the Acts of Lord Savior") and begins with a rubric, "Incipit sermo de 
vindicta Domini" ("Here begins a sermon on the vengeance of the 
Lord"). The two texts occur together in over twenty later manuscripts, 
and their joint transmission suggests that they were perceived as hav- 
ing some bearing on each other, although, with few exceptions, the 
Vindicta does not develop the sort of attachment to the EN that was 
characteristic of the Cura.^ It may be contiguous with the EN, but 
textually and graphically it was usually marked off as a distinct, inde- 
pendent work. 

spatmittelalterlicher deutscher Prosa. Texte, Germanische Bibliothek, 4th Series, Texte 
und Kommentar (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1987), 448-67. This re-edition detaches 
the Cura from tiie EP, supplies a heading for the former, emd discontinues para- 
graph numbering, thus obscuring textual cohesion between the EN and the Cura. 

^ Geerard, Clains, no. 70. This text has been edited by Tischendorf, Evangelia 
apocrypha, 471-86; its beginning has been printed from different manuscripts by 
E. Kolbing and Mabel Day, eds.. The Siege of Jerusalem, BETS OS, vol. 188 (Lon- 
don: Oxford University Press, 1932), 83-85. For its dating and localization, see 
Dobschiitz, Christusbilder, 216, 276. 

" In at least one manuscript, Paris, BN MS. lat. 18201 (saec. Xn-Xm), the 
Vindicta is presented as Liber secundus (fol. 122rb) of the EN. 

Latin Middle Ages 61 

1.3.4. Somnium Neronis 

More closely associated with the EN was the text now called Somnium 
Neronis, which sometimes takes the place of the Cura as an adjunct to 
the EP. The title of this thematically and stylistically heterogeneous 
text reflects accurately the contents of only the first of its several 
loosely related sections.^^ The Somnium proper is based on the Passio 
sanctorum apostolorum Petri et Pauli, chapter 22,^ and contains an 
exchange between Nero and Peter (in a different form present edso in 
the Cura), in which Peter confirms the truth of Pilate's account of the 
Crucifixion, Nero's palace collapses cifter the "gesta Salvatoris" (i.e., 
the EN) have been read, and Nero has a vision of the bleeding Christ, 
who mentions Pilate's letter and instructs the emperor to avenge his 
death through Vespasiein. This appendix to the EN seems to have been 
motivated by the desire to reiterate the veracity of Pilate's letter, which 
it always follows, and to demonstrate the potency of divine truth 
ii\herent in the EN, the center of gravity for both the EP and the 
Somnium. Christ's charging Nero with exacting vengecince shows an 
enemy of Christianity turned into an instrument of God's wrath 
against the Jews, whose culpability is a prominent theme in the EN 
and the EP. 

Individual thematic strands present in the first section of the 
Somnium proper not only look back to the main apocryphon but also 
anticipate the remaining portions of this appendix. Nero's vision serves 
as a transition to a list of signs that preceded the destruction of Jerusa- 
lem (the appearance of a burning star over Jerusalem, a sudden illumi- 
nation of the temple in the middle of the night, uimatural births of 
various kinds, and the opening of the heavy temple gates at night). 
These are drawn from Rufinus's Latin translation of Eusebius's adapta- 
tion {Ecclesiastical History 3.8.1-9) of Josephus's Jewish Wars 6.5.3.^ 
The ensuing detailed description of the destruction of Jerusalem is 
likewise based ultimately on Josephus, as mediated by Eusebius and 

'^ This appendix to the EN has been titled and edited by Ernst von Etob- 
schiitz, "A Collection of Old Latin Bible Quotations: Somnium Neronis," Journal of 
Theological Studies 16 (1915): 1-27. Its first section has also been printed by Thilo, 
Codex apocryphus, cxl n. 139, and, more recently, by Wolfgang Speyer, "Neue Pila- 
tus-Apokryphen," Vigiliae Christianae 32 (1978): 53-59 (without knowledge of 
Dobschutz's edition). The two earliest manuscripts of this appendix are Einsie- 
deln, StiftsbibUothek MS. 169, pp. 102-12, and Paris, BN MS. lat. 5327, fols. 54v- 
55r, both saec. X. 

^ Lipsius and Bonnet, Acta apostolorum apocrypha, 139. 

'^ Eusebius of Caesarea, Die Kirchengeschichte, 1:214-21; Flavius Josephus, The 
Jewish Wars, ed. H. St. J. Thackeray, 2 vols.. The Loeb Classical Library (Cam- 
bridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, l%7-68), 2:459-67. 


Rufinus.^ The rest consists of a long discursive treatise made up in 
large part of scriptural quotations derived from the Old Latin transla- 
tion of the Bible. The treatise demonstrates, first, that the destruction 
of Jerusalem was long foretold by the prophets (Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, 
Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Esdras, and others) and, second, that Christ 
is indeed the "lapis angularis" ("comer stone") mentioned by Isaiah 
and that the time of carnal observations of the synagogue has ceased. 
Not all manuscripts preserve the full text of the Somnium: some include 
only Nero's vision, others add the destruction of Jerusalem, and still 
others end at various points in the anti-Jewish treatise. 

The exact date and provenance of the Somnium Neronis have not 
yet been established. Dobschiitz offers no thoughts on the subject, 
while Speyer remarks with regard to Nero's vision only that late 
antiquity as time of its origin is not improbable.^^ What seems fairly 
certain is that the Somnium was composed only after the addition of 
the EP to the EN. First, its opening sentence, "Cumque haec Claudius 
suscepisset et Neroni imperatori legisset . . ." ("And when Claudius 
received these and read to emperor Nero . . .") points directly to the EP 
as its antecedent, and the references to Pilate's letter and to the "gesta 
Salvatoris" suggest that from its inception the Somnium was related to 
the two. Second, the Somnium, in contrast to the EP, the Cura, and the 
Vindicta, never occurs independently in manuscripts but is always an 
appendix of the EN.^ As far as I know, it had no autonomous exis- 
tence in the Middle Ages but was always subsumed by the EN, whose 
colophons often mark its closure.^^ 

1.3.5. De VeroruUa and De Persecutoribus Christi 

The EP, Cura, Vindicta, and Somnium were the earliest appendices to 
the EN. They were also most common at the height of the EN's popu- 
larity: the first is present in approximately 65 percent of over 420 
known manuscripts of the apocryphon, the second in 23 percent, and 

^ Dobschiitz, "A Collection," 8. 

^' Speyer, "Neue Pilatus-Apokryphen," 57. 

*° In three manuscripts, Cambridge, St. John's College MS. K. 23 (229), fol. 
76v (saec. XII), CCCC MS. 320, fol. 113v (saec. XH), and London, BL MS. Royal 10 
A. Vin, fol. 149v (saec. Xni), the Somnium occurs in conjimction with the EP orUy. 

** Cf. Aachen, Stadtarchiv MS. KK Regulierherren Nr. 9 (saec. XV), fol. 91ra, 
"Explicit passio Domini" ("Here ends the Passion of the Lord"); Mvmich, Baye- 
rische Staatsbibliothek (BSB) Clm 642 (saec. XI), fol. 26r, "Exphdvnt gesta Domini 
Saluatoris" ("Here end the acts of Lord Savior"); Paris, BN MS. lat. 5327 (saec. X), 
fol. 55r, "Explicit gesta Domini Salvatoris" ("Here ends the Acts of Lord Savior"); 
Poznai\, Miejska Biblioteka Publiczna Rkp. 188 (saec. XV), fol. 87v, "Explicit 
ewangelium Nicodemii etc." ("Here ends the Gospel of Nicodemus, etc."). 

Latin Middle Ages 63 

the third and fourth in 6 percent each. Later medieval scribes contin- 
ued the practice of grafting texts onto the EN, but their amplifications 
had a more limited circulation. One such later addition, De Veronilla, 
was a short version of the healing of Tiberius akin to the Cura, com- 
posed perhaps as early as the tenth century .^^ This text is known 
from only four manuscripts, in all of which it is adjacent to or fused 
with the EN. In the earliest one, Stuttgart, Wiirtembergische Landesbib- 
liothek MS. Theol. phil. 8° 57 (saec. XU), it follows the closing state- 
ment of the EN, 'Tiniunt gesta nostri Saluatoris" (fol. 82v; "Here end 
the acts of Our Savior") and bears its own title, "Incipit de Veronilla et 
de imagine Domini in sindone depicta" ("Here begins [the story] of 
Veronilla and of the image of the Lord depicted on muslin").^ In two 
others, Graz, Universitatsbibliothek MS. 628, fol. 122rb-vb (saec. XV/1), 
and Prague, Stitni knihovr\a MS. IE. D. 13, fols. 24vb-25ra (saec. XTV), 
De Veronilla is attached directly, without any graphic signal or inter- 
vening white space, to an account of the deaths of the two Herods, 
De persecutoribus Christi (beginning, 'Taulisper quod de persecutoribus 
Christi actum sit videamus. Primus Herodes sub quo passi sunt 
infantes . . ."; "Let us briefly consider what was done concerning the 
persecutors of Christ. First Herod, under whom the children suffered 
death . . ."), which is in turn joined in the same marmer to the £P." 
Except in the Stuttgart copy, the De Veronilla concludes with a closing 
statement for the EN: "Explicit ewangelium Nicodemi etc." ("Here 
ends the Gospel of Nicodemus, etc.") in the Berlin manuscript, fol. 
45va; "Explicit ewangelium Nicodemi quod est apocrofim et ab eclesia 
sancta non tenetur etc. Deo gracias. Alleluya" ("Here ends the Gospel 
of Nicodemus, which is apocryphal and not recognized by the Holy 
Church. Thanks be to God. Alleluia") in Graz, fol. 122vb; and "Expli- 
ciunt gesta Nycodemi de passione Domini. Amen" ("Here end the acts 
of Nicodemus concerning the Passion of the Lord. Amen") in Prague, 
fol. 25rb. 

" Schonbach, review of Evangelia apocrypha, 181-82. 

" The text from tiiis manuscript has been edited by Hans Ferd. Massmann, 
Der keiser und der kunige buoch oder die sogenannte Kaiserchronik, Gedicht des zwolften 
Jahrhunderts, pt. 3 (Quedlinburg: G. Basse), 579-80, 605-6; cf. also Dobschiitz, 
Christusbilder, 278*. 

" The same may be the case in the fourth manuscript, Berlin, SBPK MS. 
Theol. laL fol. 533 (saec. XV in.), which I have not had an opportunity to coi\sult. 


1.3.6. Epilogue, De imperatoribus, De destructione 
ierusalem, De arbore cnicis Domini 

Several thirteenth- to fifteenth-century manuscripts, mostly of French 
and British origin, attach to the EN an epilogue addressing a monastic 
audience and restating the title of the apocryphon: 

Nunc ergo, dilectissimi fratres, hanc lectionem quam audistis 
Nichodemus hebraicis commendauit litteris. Et postea multis 
succedentibus annis uenit ad Ierusalem magnus imperator 
Theodosius ibique inuenit illas in pretorio Pilati presidis in 
publicis descriptas codicibus sicque per ilium imperatorem ad 
nostram deuenerunt notitiam. (Cambridge, St. John's College 
MS. E. 24, fol. 93r, saec. XV) 

(And so, most beloved brothers, Nicodemus committed this 
lesson which you have heard into Hebrew letters. And after- 
wards, many years having passed, the great emperor Theodo- 
sius came to Jerusalem and found them there in Pilate's council- 
chamber, written in public codices; and thus through that 
emperor they came to our knowledge.) 

Although it may appear to be concluding the EN, this epilogue is in 
fact used as a link to further texts on the topics already exploited in 
other appendices — those of Roman emperors and the destruction of the 
Jews. These texts are elaborated most fully in the above-quoted Cam- 
bridge manuscript, in which the epilogue, ending in the middle of the 
line, is immediately continued in this maimer: 

In illis ergo diebus in quibus crucifixus est Dominus noster 
Ihesus Christus, Tyberius cesar in urbe Roma quietus manebat 
quia leprosus erat effectus nichilque adhuc de misterio Christi 
passionis et resurrectionis audiebat — 

(In those days, therefore, when our Lord Jesus Christ was cru- 
cified, emperor Tiberius remained resting in the city of Rome 
because he was affected by leprosy and had not yet heard 
about the mystery of Christ's Passion and Resurrection ) 

This as yet unpublished text, which I have tentatively called De impera- 
toribus, begins with a somewhat modified theme of Tiberius's conver- 
sion, derived ultimately from the Cura. The suffering emperor hears 
about Christ from Pilate, believes the report, and attempts — unsuccess- 
fully — to establish Christianity as the official religion of the empire. 
After he accepts baptism and is healed, he brings about the deaths of 
many enemies of Christ. Without any explicit trai\sition, there follow 
brief notes on several emperors, with their names (Julius Caesar, 

Latin Middle Ages 65 

Octavian, Herod, Gaius, Claudius) flushed in the margins, and a more 
extensive account of the ugly life of Nero. The composition ends with 
a coniment on Nero's successors and on the ascension of Vespasian (in 
other manuscripts Tiberius) to the imperial dignity. 

On fol. 96v in the Cambridge manuscript, a rubric, De Tyto et 
Uaspasiano, and a large initial in the margin may indicate the begiiming 
of a new text, also unedited, which in another manuscript — ^Rouen, 
Bibl. mun. MS. U. 65, fol. 243rb (saec. XTV) — is perhaps more aptly 
entitled De destructione lerusalem. This piece was probably intended as 
a continuation of the De imperatoribus, for it begins with the deictic 
phrase "Iste igitur Uaspasianus . . ." ("Therefore that Vespasianus . . .") 
effecting a certain degree of textual cohesion between the two. The De 
destructione is a narrative, fashioned after the Vindicta (chaps. 1-17), 
about the conversion and healing of Titus and about his siege and 
destruction of Jerusalem. It does not, however, continue the story of 
the miraculous image of Christ but turns instead to Josephus's account 
{Jewish Wars 6.4.6hS.5.2),^ possibly in Hegesippus's Latin rendition 
{Historiae 5.43),^ of the burning of the temple and Titus's attempts to 
save it. In cormection with this conflagration, the supernatural signs 
that heralded the destruction of Jerusalem are rehearsed (cf . Historiae 
5.44).^^ The De destructione ends with the acclamation of Titus as 
emperor and his condemnation of the Jewish leaders who came to him 
asking for cessation of persecution (cf . Jewish Wars 6.6.1-3; and Historiae 

Finally, the De destructione is followed by two short, separately 
titled texts, which seem to belong — although more loosely — to the 
larger compilatory whole. One of them, introduced on fol. 103r with a 
rubric "Nota bene de miraculis arboris sancti sic" ("Mark well con- 
cerning the miracles of the holy tree as follows") is a version of the 
legend of the cross; the other, begiruiing on fol. 103v with the rubric 
"Nota de luda proditore" ("Note concerning Judas the traitor") is a 
story of Judas. Both of them, edited under the single title De arbore 
crucis Domini by E. M. Thompson,^ recur in various configurations in 
other manuscripts of this compilation.^" 

^ Josephus, The Jewish Wars, 2:448-59. 

^ Hegesippus, Hegesippi qui dicitur Historiae libri V, ed. Vincentius Ussani, 
CSEL, vol. 66 (Vienna: Hoelder-Pichler-Tempsky, 1932), 390-91. 

*' Hegesippus, Historiae libri V, 391-95. 

^ Josephus, The Jewish Wars, 2:469-79; Hegesippus, Historiae libri V, 395-401. 

^ E. M. Thompson, "Apocryphal Legends," Journal of the British Archaeological 
Association 37 (1881): 241-43. 

^ I owe information on several of those manuscripts to Robert Miller, 
Brasenose College, Oxford. 


The Cambridge collection is not unique. The already mentioned 
manuscript Rouen, Bibl. mun. MS. U. 65, has the same sequence — EN 
(beginning only in 24.1), EP, epilogue, De imperatoribus, and De destruc- 
tione — while two others, Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS. Bodl. 556, fols. lr-13v 
(saec. Xm in.), and London, BL MS. Cotton Vesp. E. I, fols. 182v-96v 
(saec. XV), lack only the De destructione. Several codices rearrange the 
pieces more radically. They reduce the prominence of the EN by excis- 
ing its first section, the account of the trial before Pilate, and begin 
only in EN 11.3, with the words of Matthew 27:57, "Cum sero factum 
esset, uenit quidam homo . . ." ("When evening fell, there came a man 
. . ."). The EN is embedded in the midst of other texts, so that it no 
longer dominates or sets the tone for the whole sequence. In Cam- 
bridge, Magdalene College MS. F. 4. 15, fols. 87v-91r (saec. XUI), the 
compilation begins with excerpts from the rood-tree legend on the 
building of Solomon's temple,^^ followed by a large chunk of the De 
destructione (without the burning of the temple or the subsequent epi- 
sodes). Then excerpts from the De arbore begin abruptly, only to merge 
with the EN (opening with Joseph of Arimathea), extended in turn 
with the EP, the epilogue, and the De imperatoribus (on Tiberius only). 
This arrangement of texts suggests a deliberate design: the construction 
of the temple is juxtaposed with the annihilation of the holy city, and 
the story of the cross, culminating in the redemptive Crucifixion and 
Resurrection, is bound up with both.''^ At least four manuscripts begin 
the compilation with the De arbore and continue with the EN, EP, epi- 
logue, and De imperatoribus 7^ Although transitions between individu- 
al texts in these compilations are rough, manuscript layouts (lack of 
titles, chapters of the EN signaled in the same manner as other consti- 
tuent texts) suggest that they were supposed to form loosely organized 
yet integral collections of legendary-historical accounts supplementing 
the gospels. 

^' "Post egressionem . . . ," edited by J. R. Mozley, "A New Text of the Story 
of the Cross," Journal of Theological Studies 31 (1930): 117-27. The text used in the 
compilation extends from chap. 14, "Dauid autem regnauit super Israel . . ." (ibid., 
122.20), to chap. 16, ". . . que fecerat dominus Dauid seruo suo et Israel populo 
suo" (123.32); it ends with the first sentence of chap. 17, "Regnauit autem Salo- 
mon xl annis . . ." (124.12-15). 

'^ The same pattern of texts occurs in Paris, BN MS. lat. 6755 (saec. Xin/2), 
and, without the De imperatoribus, in Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS. Rawl. D; 1236 (saec. 


" They are London, BL MS. Harley 4725 (saec. XTV); Paris, BN MSS. lat. 1722 
(saec. Xll-Xm) and lat. 3338 (saec. XHI-XIV; this manuscript inserts the Cura 
between the EP and the De imperatoribus and adds the De destructione at the end); 
Winchester, Cathedral Library MS. 7 (saec. XUI). 

Latin Middle Ages 67 

The epilogue, usually a transition to the De imperatoribus, could 
also serve as a link to the complete text of the De arbore, followed by a 
version of the Cura; this sequence is found in some fifteenth-century 
manuscripts from central Europe. In one of them, Schlagl, Stiftsbiblio- 
thek MS. 156 Cpl. 145 (saec. XV/2), the legend of the cross begins, just 
like the other subdivisions of the EN in that manuscript, with a larger 
initial. It is not separated from the apocryphon with extra space, and 
the rurming tide in the top margin continues to identify it as the 
EN 7* In other manuscripts, layout features do not suggest such a 
tight connection between the texts, yet even there their co-occurrence 
seems to be deliberate rather than accidental.^ 

1.3.7. Gregory of Tours and pseudo-Augustine 

The last pair of satellite texts that attach themselves to the EN in sev- 
eral British codices of the twelfth century or later differs from the 
appendices discussed above in that they usually precede rather than 
follow the apocryphon and are concerned with the stories of Joseph of 
Arimathea and Christ's Descent into Hell rather than with Rome and 
Jerusalem. The first of these texts is an excerpt beginning "Gregorius 
Turonensis in gestis Francorum de passione et resurrectione Domini 
refert hec. Apprehensus autem et loseph qui cum aromatibus corpus 
Christi conditum in suo monumento recondidit . . ." (CCCC MS. 441, 
p. 392a, saec. Xni; "Gregory of Tours in his Historia Francorum relates 
the following concerning the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord: 
Moreover, Joseph, who laid in his sepulcher the body of Christ anoin- 
ted with aromatic oils, also having been arrested . . ."), attributed to 
Gregory of Tours. It corresponds to the passage mentioned above from 
the Decern libris historiarum, chapter 1.21, which alludes to the Gesta 
Pilati and is the earliest echo of the EN in Latin literature.^^ 

The second excerpt opens, "Augustinus quoque sanctus in sermo- 
nibus de sabbato pasche refert hec. Attonite mentes obstupuere torto- 
nim ..." ("Also St. Augustine in his sermons on the sabbat of the 

^* The ninning title changes to "Conversio Tiberii" on fol. 389v, where tfie 
Cura begins. 

^ The other manuscripts are Cesk6 Bud^jovice, St^tni vMecki knihovna MSS. 
1 VB 28 (saec. XV/2; the Cura ends on fol. 93v, "Explicit ewangelium Nycodemi 
cum aliis narradonibus . . ."; "Here ends the Gospel of Nicodemus with other 
stories . . .") and 1 VB 58 (saec. XV); Klostemeuburg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 495 
(saec. XV in.); and the numuscript used by Thompson, "Apocryphal Legends." 

''* In the form in which it usually accompanies the apocryphon, tfiis passage 
has been printed from Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS. Bodl. 556, fol. Ir (saec. Xm in.), by 
David C. Fowler, "The Middle English Gospel of Nicodemus in Winchester MS. 
33," Leeds Studies in English, n.s., 19 (1988): 79-81. 


Pasch relates the following: The dazed minds of the torturers became 
stupefied . . ."), and is lifted from the sermons of Eusebius "Gallica- 
nus" "De pascha I" and "De pascha lA,"'^ which were often com- 
bined with the pseudo-Augustinian "Sermo 160." It relates the terror 
of the infernal troops at Christ's Descent and is reminiscent of, though 
not identical with, chapter 22 of the EN. Placed before the title of the 
EN, the two extracts usually serve as an introduction to the apoc- 
ryphon/' they were probably viewed as patristic recommendations of 
the EN, raising its prestige and guaranteeing its doctrinal correctness. 

1.4. Verse adaptation of the Evangelium Nicodetni 

Besides the prose versions, there survives one Latin verse adaptation 
of the EN, entitled Palestra de victoria ChristiP This as yet unedited 
epic poem is the only known Latin counterpart to vernacular poetic 
translations and paraphrases of the apocryphon. Its exact origin re- 
mains unknown. Karl Langosch suggests that it may have been com- 
posed in the thirteenth century in southeastern Germany, while Willi 
Beine argues that the late dates of extant manuscripts indicate a much 
later date of composition, possibly the beginning of the fifteenth cen- 
tury, and associates the poem with the Prague-Wrodaw-Cracow tri- 
angle.*' Walther lists ten manuscripts, one of which, Gdansk, Bib- 

^ Eusebius "Gallicanus," Collectio homiliarum, 1:141-50; cf. 2:881-86. 

^ Both texts precede the title in CCCC MSS. 288, fol. 38r-v (saec. XHI), and 
441, pp. 392-93 (saec. XIH); Edinburgh, National Library of Scotiand MS. Adv. 
18. 5. 18, 204r-5r (saec. XID); London, BL MSS. Addit. 17003, fols. 66v-68r (saec. 
XV), and Royal 7 C. XH, fol. 219ra-rb (saec. XH). Only in Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS. 
Bodl. 556, fol. Ir-v (saec. XU ex.), do they follow the title. In London, BL MS. 
Arundel 52, fols. 47r (saec. XUI-XIV), the two passages follow the EN. Two 
manuscripts, Cambridge, Pembroke College MS. 256, fol. 58r (saec. XII ex.), and 
Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS. Addit. A. 44, fol. 105r-v (saec. XUI in.), include only the 
excerpt from Gregory of Tours. 

^ Beg. "Sceptritenentis arat sollers mea Clyo palestram . . ."; Hans Walther, 
Carmina medii aevi posterioris Latina, vol. 1, Initio carminum ac versuum medii aevi 
posterioris Latinorum . . . (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1959), nos. 5449, 
5450, 17323; idem, Carmina medii aevi posterioris Latina, vol. 1, pt. 1, Initia carminum 
ac versuum medii aevi posterioris Latinorum . . . Erganzungen und Berichtigungen zur 
1. Auflage von 1959 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1969), no. 17323. 

**" Karl Langosch, "Uberliefenmgsgeschichte der mitteUateinischen Literatur," 
in Geschichte der Textuberlieferung der antiken und mittelalterlichen Literatur, ed. Karl 
Langosch et al., vol. 2 (Zurich: Atlantis, 1964), 80; Willi Beine, "Palestra," in Die 
deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters: Verfasserlexikon, 2d rev. ed., ed. Kurt Ruh, vol. 7 
(Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989), 275-76. 

Latin Middle Ages 69 

lioteka Polskiej Akademii Nauk MS. Mcir. Q. 24, was lost during World 
War n.^^ Three additional manuscripts, all of Polish origin but kept 
until the 1920s in the Imperatorskaia Publichnaia Biblioteka in St. 
Petersburg, were described in detail by Aleksander Bruckner in his 
studies of medieval Latin poetry in Poland.*^ It appears, therefore, 
that the poem circulated widely in Poland and throughout central 
Europe in the fifteenth century. Briickner identifies some borrowings 
from it in a poem by Martinus of Slupca, the teacher of Johannes who 
owned a copy of the Palestra, and finds excerpts from it in a manu- 
script made in 1447 in Cracow by Nicolaus of Lublin.*' 

The Palesti'a begins with thirty-seven hexameters of proposition 
and invocation; the narrative proper is rendered in over seven hundred 
leonine distichs. In most manuscripts the poem is preceded by a prose 
prologue summarizing its contents. I shall quote it here from Cracow, 
Biblioteka JagielloAska MS. 2195, fol. 142r-v, written in 1466 by Martin 
of Lf czyca,*^ to give an indication of the poem's scope:*^ 

Primo auctor breuiter tractat de creacione mundi et de creacio- 
ne Ade et de lapsu eiusdem ac quomodo filius Dei, ne totum 
genus hvmanum periret, de gloriosa virgine Maria natus, se 

*' Persoruil communication from Prof. Dr. hab. Zbigniew Nowak, director of 
the library. Not listed by Walther but noticed by Beine, "Palestra," 275, is Wro- 
daw, Biblioteka Uniwersytecka MS. I O 23, fols. 72v-91r (saec. XV/1), from the 
Cisterdan library at Rudy, near Radb6rz, Poland; cf. Stanistaw Rybandt, Katahg 
ksigg zachowanych z iredniowieczmj bibliotdci Cystersdw w Rudach (Warsaw: Instytut 
Wydawniczy Pax, 1979), 60-62. 

"^ They were Lat. XVH, Pol. 29, fols. 103v-24r, written in 1451 by Matemus, 
a Cistercian monk from Koprzywnica, Poland (Aleksander Bruckner, "§rednio- 
wieczna poezya ladfiska w Polsce. Cz^ druga," Rozpraxvy Akademii Umiejftno^ 
w Krakowie. Wydziat Filologiczny 22 [1893]: 39-40); Ut. XVD, Qu. 18, fols. 1-44 
(saec. XV), belonging to "lohannes de Slupcza Clericus Gneznensis diocesis put>- 
Ucus," who wrote parts of tfiis manuscript but not the Palestra, copied in an older 
hand (idem, "$rediuowieczna poezya ladi^ska w Polsce," Rozpraiuy Akademii 
Umiej^tnoici w Krakowie. Wydziat Filologiczny 16 [1892]: 312-53); and Lat. XVU, Qu. 
140, fols. 137-79, from the Benedictine moruistery at Lysiec (Holy Cross) in the 
^wi^tokrzyskie Mountains, parts of which, induding the Palestra, were copied in 
1451 by Stanislaus of Cracow (idem, "^redniowieczna poezya . . . Czj^ druga," 
40-42). Between 1922 and 1924, tfie Imperial Library in St. Petersburg returned all 
three manuscripts to the Biblioteka Narodowa in Warsaw, where &iey unfortu- 
nately perished during World War 11 (personal communication from D*. Andrzej 
Piber, Director of the Depcirtment of Manuscripts). 

^ Aleksander Briickner, "^redniowieczna poezya," 325-26; idem, "^rednio- 
wieczna poezya . . . Cz^ druga," 49. 

®* Bruckner, "^redruowieczna poezya . . . Cz^ druga," 6-28. 

^ I have normtilized punctuation and capitctlization but preserved ortho- 
graphic and grammatical idiosyncrasies. I should like to thank Biblioteka Jagiel- 
loi^ska for permission to print this text and Mr. Ryszard Tatarzyrtski for his help 
with its transcription. 


crucifigii pro nostra redempcione voluit. Quern crucifixum 
Joseph ab Arimatia honorifice sepeliuit, propter quod ludei 
ipsum incarceraverunt, signantes hostium careens sigillis 
propriis et sepulcrum Cristi muniuerunt custodibus. Tercia 
autem die carcerem apperuerunt vt loseph occiderent sed 
inclusum in carcere non invenerunt. Tunc mirantibus ludeis 
supervenerunt custodes sepulcri Cristi, qui ludeis dixerunt se 
angelum ad sepulcrum Cristi vidisse qui Cristum dixit ex 
mortuis resurexisse. Sed ludei custodes corrumperunt pecunia 
vt dicerent corpus Cristi per discipulos suos sublatum esse. Et 
postea facit exclamacionem contra munera. Interea insonuit 
ludeis^ quomodo loseph esset inventus in Arimathia, quern 
ludei pacifice vocauerunt per litteras in Jerusalem vt narraret 
eis quis eum de carceribus liberasset. loseph autem veniens 
narrauit quod Cristus resurgens a mortuis ipso orante sibi ante 
diem in carcere apparuit et osculans eum de carcere eduxerit, 
carcerem ad alta aeris eleuans, et quod non solum Cristus 
resurrexisset sed multos secum excitauit ab inferis. De numero 
quorum duos filios Simeonis dixit esse in Arimathia nihil 
loquentes sed tamen Deum laudantes. Ad quos ludei perientes 
dvxerunt eos in Jerusalem cum honore, adiurantes eos per 
Deum vt dicerent qualiter ab inferis essent liberati. Jlli autem 
poposcerunt cartas et scripserunt gesta Cristi in inferis, dicen- 
tes quod diu ante passionem Cristi spiritualis lux resplenduit 
apud inferos, vnde gauisi sunt sancti quia Cristum sperabant 
cito venturum et eos liberatorum. Cum autem tempus appro- 
pinquauit passionis Cristi, Sathan venier\s ad infemum clama- 
bat ad demones inferiores vt prepararent tormenta quia Jhesus 
venturus esset in infernum, qui sibi multa mala in mundo 
intulerat et hoc quod esset timens mortem narrauit. Cum 
autem demones respondent quod iste Jhesus esset qui Laza- 
rum suscitauerat, diswaserunt sibi ne eum invaderet eo quod 
r\imis potentem senserant vocem dicentis "Lazare, veni foras." 
Sathan autem de hac diswasione reprehendit demones. Cum 
ergo sic litigarent, venit vox angelorum dicentium "Tollite 
portas, principes, vestras." Deinde Jhesus venit et demones 
expugnans sanctos patres liberauit [fol. 124v] et eductos de 
inferno Michaeli comisit, qui eos ad terrestrem paradisum 
perduxit, vbi cum Elya, Enoch et latrone tripudium habuenmt, 
quos Cristus die quadragesima ad celos perduxit. Cuius ascen- 
sionem demones cognoscentes in aera fugerunt et angeli de 

Graz, Universitatsbibliothek MS. 1259, fol. 32r, reads "fama insonuit." 

Latin Middle Ages 71 

inferioribus choiis mirabantur. Deinde sedet in solio patris, 
vbi requiescunt septem columne, id est, septem dona Spiritus 
sancti et angeli astantes cum Sanctis coram throno colaudant 
eum. Libnim eciam vite in manu tenent, in quo scripti sunt 
omnes sancti cum mentis suis, primo gloriosa virgo Maria, 
deinde angeli et martires ex post. Qui quia sunt sine numero 
et merita ipsorum nullus artifex potest describere neque glo- 
riam ipsorum meditari, ideo propter breuitatem imponens 
finem libello carmen cecinerit metricum. 

(First the author briefly discusses the Creation of the worid, 
and the creation of Adam, and his Fall, and how the Son of 
God, bom of the glorious Virgin Mary, wished to be crucified 
for our Redemption, lest the entire humankind perished. After 
he was crucified, Joseph of Arimathea buried him with honor; 
because of that, the Jews imprisoned him, marking the door of 
the prison with their seals, and they set guards at Christ's 
sepulcher. However, on the third day they opened the prison 
to kill Joseph but did not find the prisoner in the prison. 
While the Jews were marveling, there came the guards of 
Christ's sepulcher, who told the Jews that they had seen an 
angel at Christ's sepulcher who said that Christ had risen 
from the dead. But the Jews enticed the guards with money to 
say that the body of Christ had been taken away by his disci- 
ples. And afterwards he [the author] makes an exclamation 
against gifts. Meanwhile the Jews heard how Joseph had been 
found in Arimathea; they peaceably invited him by letters to 
Jerusalem so that he might tell them who had freed him from 
prison. And indeed when he came, Joseph related that while 
he was praying, Christ, rising from the dead, appeared to him 
in prison before dawn and, kissing him, led him out of prison, 
lifting the prison high into air, and that not only Christ him- 
self had risen but he had roused up many from hell. He said 
that two sons of Simeon, who were among them, were in 
Arimathea, saying nothing but yet praising God. Approaching 
them, the Jews led them to Jerusalem with honor, adjuring 
them in the name of God to say how they had been freed 
from hell. But they requested paper and wrote the deeds of 
Christ in hell, saying that long before Christ's Passion, spiritu- 
al light shone brightiy in the underworld, whereat the saints 
rejoiced because they expected that Christ would soon come 
and free them. And when the time of Christ's Passion ap- 
proached, Satan, coming to hell, kept calling out to lesser 
devils to prepare torments because Jesus was coming to hell. 


who had caused him much grief in the world, and reported 
that he feared death. But when the demons respond that he 
was the Jesus who had resuscitated Lazarus, they advised 
against his assailing him because they had sensed immense 
power in the voice of him who said, "Come forth, Lazarus." 
But Satan chided the demons for that advice. So when they 
argued thus, there came a voice of angels saying, "Lift up 
your gates, princes." Thereupon came Jesus and subduing the 
demons liberated holy fathers and, having led them out, he 
entrusted them to Michael, who led them to the terrestrial 
paradise, where they solemnly rejoiced together with Elijah, 
Enoch and the Thief; on the fortieth day Christ led them into 
heavens. Recognizing his Ascension, demons fled in the air, 
and angels of the lower choirs marveled. He then sits on the 
throne of the Father, where the seven columns rest, i.e., the 
seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the angels and saints at- 
tending before his throne praise him together. They also hold 
in their hands the Book of Life, in which are entered all the 
saints with their merits, and in the first place the glorious 
Virgin Mary, and then cingels, and martyrs thereafter. Because 
they are innumerable and because no artist could either de- 
scribe or meditate on their glory, therefore for the sake of 
brevity, bringing the book to an end, he will have sung his 
metrical poem.) 

Most of the poem is taken up with a poetic paraphrase of the 
imprisonment and release of Joseph and of the Harrowing of Hell — the 
middle sections of this summary read like an epitome of the EN. Its 
beginning and end, however, provide a frame that extends beyond the 
narrative and doctrinal bounds of the apocryphon. It opens with an 
account of the Fall of humanity, which explains the need for Christ's 
Incarnation and painful death on the cross. A vision of the glorified 
Christ, enthroned and surrounded by angels and saints, and of the 
prominently displayed Book of Life, in which are inscribed the names of 
all the saints, forms the poem's conclusion. The Palestra thus presents a 
complete story of the Redemption, from the events that necessitated it to 
its fruition in the restoration of humar\kind to its heavenly inheritance. 

In shaping his material, the poet took some liberties with his apoc- 
ryphal source. He did not slavishly follow the original but freely ex- 
plored its poetic potential. He interpolated, altered, and abridged with 
little hesitation, following the storyline rather than the wording of the 
EN. He described, for instance, the illumination of hell at the moment 
of Christ's birth and associated the prophets' speeches with that 
occasion. Throughout the Palestra, the language is deliberately, at times 

Latin Middle Ages 73 

studiously, poetic, saturated with classical echoes, often far removed 
from the simple idiom of the apocryphon. 

1.5. Speculum historiale and Legenda aurea 

Large portions of the Latin EN were also disseminated through the 
medium of two extremely popular compilations, Vincent of Beauvais's 
Speculum historiale and Jacobus a Voragine's Legenda aureaF The for- 
mer, completed and revised probably before 1260 as part of the Specu- 
lum maius, an encyclopedic compendium of excerpts and quotations, 
contains a history of humanity from Creation until 1254, constructed 
from scriptural, apocryphal, and legendcuy materials. In this context, 
it includes an exposition of Christ's Passion, Descent into Hell, and 
Resurrection, an exposition highly indebted to the EN. In chapter 40, 
"De discussione causae eius coram Pilato" ("On the examination of his 
case before Pilate"), Christ's exchange with Pilate concerning truth and 
the reports of Christ's miracles are partly quoted and partly para- 
phrased from EN 3.2, 4.5, 5.1, and 6.1 to 8. The following chapter, "De 
illusione Herodis, & iudicio Pilati" (chap. 41; "On Herod's mockery 
and Pilate's judgement"), briefly recounts Pilate's wife's dream in 
terms borrowed from the EN (2.1), and chapter 48, "De sepultura 
Domiru" ("On the entombment of the Lord"), relates the imprisonment 
of Joseph of Arimathea on the basis of EN 12.1. In the accounts of 
Joseph's Christophany and Christ's Descent into Hell (chaps. 56-63), 
short excerpts give way to large-scale adaptation, as Vincent incorpo- 
rates, for the most part verbatim, much of the second and third sec- 
tions of the EN (chaps. 12.2 to 27), with only occasional omissions 
designed to speed up the flow of the narrative.** 

The Legenda aurea, the other compilation to include large portions 
of the EN, was written before 1267 and became perhaps the most influ- 
ential hagiographical collection of the Middle Ages. Like Vincent, 
Jacobus makes liberal use of apocryphal narratives; he evokes the EN 
repeatedly: in chapter 53, quoting Pilate's and Christ's exchange con- 
cerning truth {EN 3.2); in chapters 54 and 67, alluding to Joseph's 
imprisonment {EN 12); and in chapter 68, reporting Seth's journey to 
paradise {EN 19.1). Most important for popularization of the EN is, 
however, chapter 54, "De resurrectione Domiiu" ("On the Resurrection 

^ Vincent of Beauveds, Speculum historiale (1624; repr., Graz: Akademische 
Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1965); Jacobus a Voragine, ]acohi a Voragine Legenda aurea 
vulgo Historia Lombardica dicta, ed. Th. Graesse (1890; repr., Osnabriick: O. Zeller, 

** Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum historiale, 236, 238, 242-44. 


of the Lord")-^' Here Jacobus first summarizes pseudo-Augustine's 
"Sermo 160" and then reproduces the entire DI {EN 18-27), albeit with 
cuts and abridgements. On the whole, the Legenda gives less of the EN 
than the Speculum, but it may have played a more central role in the 
apocryphon's dissemination, for its abbreviated version of the DI 
acquired a quasi-independent status and was often transmitted as a 
separate text.^° 

Both the Speculum and the Legenda circulated in hundreds, if not 
thousands, of manuscripts.^^ In fact, it is likely that more people 
knew the EN or about the EN indirectly from these secondary sources 
than directly from the manuscripts of the apocryphon itself. Diffusing 
the apocryphal narrative, the two may have also contributed to the 
wide adoption of its current title, Evangelium Nicodemi, which both of 
them employ repeatedly, although not exclusively. 

The EN, in the form in which it was available to medieval readers (and 
in which it is still preserved in over four hundred manuscripts), was 
hardly a uniform, well-defined, discrete text. Its form and scope fluc- 
tuated on par with its title. The old Passion-Resurrection narrative con- 
tinued to evolve linguistically and stylistically throughout its history, 
its apocryphal character and self-acknowledged status as translation 
inviting scribal intervention. Thematically, it tended to expand beyond 
its original boundaries by attracting and absorbing other texts: medi- 
eval scribes showed little hesitation in supplying thematic correction or 
completion whenever they thought these were called for. Thus they 
reworked the portrait of Pilate, recasting him as a villain justly con- 
demned; completed the story of the Redemption with the conversion 
of a Roman emperor, foreshadowing the ultimate triumph of Christian- 
ity; and appended accounts of divine vengeance against the Jews, em- 
phatically severing the umbilical tie between Christianity and Judaism. 
Receptive of various extensions, the EN remained highly pliable. It was 
easily traiisformed into homilies, adapted to historiographic contexts, 
fitted into poetic form, cut and pasted into hagiographic and encyclo- 

*' Jacobus a Voragine, Legenda aurea, 226, 241-44, 302-3. 

^ Cf. Augsburg, Universitatsbibliothek Cod. n. 1. 2°. 163, fols. 241v-42v (saec. 
XV); Berlin, SBPK MS. Theol. lat. qu. 57, fols. 92vb-93va (saec. XV); and Oxford, 
Bodl. Lib. MS. Ashm. 1289, fol. 72rb-vb (saec. XIV in.). 

^' M.-C. Duchenne, Gregory G. Guzman, and J. B. Voorbij, "Une Liste des 
manuscrits du Speculum historiale de Vincent de Beauvais," Scriptorium 41 (1987): 
286-94; Barbara Fleith, "Le Classement des quelque 1000 manuscrits de la Legenda 
aurea latine en vue de I'^tablissement d'une histoire de la tradition," in Legenda 
aurea: Sept sitcles de diffusion. Actes du colloque international sur la Legenda aurea: 
Texte latin et branches vernaculaires, ed. Brenda Dunn-Lardeau (Montreal: Editions 
Bellarmin, 1986), 19-24. 

Latin Middle Ages 75 

pedic compilations. Throughout the Middle Ages, it was a vibrant, liv- 
ing work: growing and mutating, teaching and delighting generations 
of readers. 

2. The Evangelium Nicodemi and the canonical Scriptures 

The EN enjoyed a somewhat ambiguous status among religious texts 
of the Middle Ages: it was generally recognized as extracanonical, yet 
the ii\fluence it exerted and the respect it commanded situate it among 
the period's most prestigious, culturally most sigiuficant texts. Since 
the ninth century, when its dissemination first began to gain momen- 
tum, until it finally succumbed to the censures of the Reformation, the 
EN nourished pious imagination and satiated pious curiosity practi- 
cally imrestrained by ecclesiastical authority. 

That the EN was generally known and treated as an apocryphon 
during the later Middle Ages is clear from its immediate manuscript 
contexts as well as from occasional inscriptions that unambiguously 
identify it as such. Assuming that many medieval manuscripts were 
not random assemblages but rather purposeful and deliberate collec- 
tions of texts, the frequency with which the EN occurs alongside other 
scripturally marginal, noncanonical works suggests that it was viewed 
as sharing their essential nature. Several of its manuscripts are par 
excellence apocryphal collections, containing nothing or little besides 
apocryphal texts; such are, for instance, Berkeley, University of Califor- 
nia, Bancroft Library MS. UCB 20 (saec. XH); Paris, BN MSS. lat. 1652 
(saec. XV), lat. 5556 (saec. XIV), and lat. 5559A (saec. XTV/l); and 
Vatican City, Bibl. Apost. Vatic. MS. Vat. lat. 5094 (saec. XII). In others, 
the EN occurs among authored works, but even then frequently in the 
company of such texts as Pseudo-Matthew and other infancy narratives. 
Liber Methodii, Transitus Mariae, Visio Pauli, Vita Adae et Evae, or the 
correspondence of pseudo-Jesus and pseudo-Lentulus. 

Since the ninth century, occasional explicit comments about the 
EN's apocryphal character corroborate the evidence of apocryphal con- 
texts. We do not know whether before the ninth century the EN was at 
all viewed through the prism of the Scriptures, and hence as apocry- 
phal. It is not mentioned by title in any of the early lists of apocrypha, 
not even in the extensive and important Decretum pseudo-Gelasianum, 
compiled in the fourth and sixth centuries.'^ The only medieval list- 

^ Ernst von Dobschiitz, ed.. Das Decretum Gelasianum de lihris redpiendis et 
rum redpiendis, Texte und Untersuchungen, vol. 38, no. 3 (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 
1912), 320. 


ing of apocryphal books to include the EN, the twelfth-century Samari- 
tan Elenchus which refers to it as "sefer be sorest," or "a book of 
gospel," was unknown to the Europeans.'^ 

Nevertheless, from at least the ninth century, some scribes began 
emphatically to dissociate the EN from the canonical writings. An 
important manuscript from that period, Laon, Bibl. mun. MS. 265, 
contains a note intended to dispel any doubt about the EN's spurious- 
ness: "Hunc librum qui uocatur gesta saluatoris nullatenus recipimus 
quia nullum habet pondus auctoritatis, quia sanctus papa Gelasius 
cum Ixx episcopis, uiris erudissimis, inter apocriphas deputauit scrip- 
turas" (fol. 2r; "We by no means accept this book which is called Acts 
of the Savior because it has no weight of authority as holy pope 
Gelasius, together with seventy bishops, most learned men, classed it 
among apocryphal scriptures"). Since, as observed above, the surviving 
manuscripts of the Decretum pseudo-Gelasianum make no mention of the 
EN under any recognizable title, the comment is rather puzzling. 
Several explanations are possible. The scribe may have associated the 
condemnation of one Leucius, "discipulus diaboli" ("the devil's 
disciple") and the supposed author of the apocryphal Acts of John, with 
the names of the two sons of Simeon, Leucius and Carinus, raised from 
the dead, according to the D/;'^ or he may have used an amplified, no 
longer extant copy of the Decretum; or, finally, he may have just as- 
sumed that such a condemnation existed, without consulting the 
Decretum. In any case, his note is the earliest indication of the concern 
about the possibility of mistaking the Latin EN for a canonical text and 
the earliest acknowledgement of its apocryphal character. 

The connection between the EN and the New Testament canon 
was not brought to the fore until the twelfth century, after the term 
"evangelium" became attached to the apocryphon.'^ The title Evange- 

'^ Marek Starowieyski, ed., Apokryfy Noioego Testamentu, vol. 1, Ewangelie 
apokryficzne, pt. 1 (Lublin: Towarzystwo Naukowe Katolickiego Uniwersytetu 
Lubelskiego, 1986), 63. 

** Dobschiitz, Das Decretum Gelasianum, 298. 

'^ In later manuscripts, inscriptions indicative of the scribes' or the readers' 
awareness of the work's apocryphal status are relatively common. We find them, 
for instance, in Geneva-Cologny, Biblioth^ue Bodmer MS. Bodmer 127 (saec. 
XII), fol. 2r, "hec inter apocrypha [esse ?] putatur" ("this is considered [to be ?] 
among apocrypha"); in Paris, BN MS. lat. 4999A (saec. XII ex.), fol. 76r, "Euange- 
liimi Nichodemi quod apocrifum reputatur" ("the Gospel of Nicodemus which is 
deemed apocryphal"); in Brussels, Bibliothfeque royale Albert P MS. II 937 (saec. 
Xin), fol. 6v, "apocrifim" ("apocryphal") written in the margin opposite the open- 
ing of the D/; in Graz, Universitatsbibliothek MS. 628 (saec. XV/1), fol. 122vb, 
"Explicit ewangelium Nicodemi quod est apocrofim et ab eclesia sancta non 
tenetur etc." ("Here ends the Gospel of Nicodemus, which is apocryphal and not 
accepted by the Holy Church, etc."); and in Wolfenbiittel, Herzog-August-BibUo- 

Latin Middle Ages 77 

Hum Nicodemi made one of its early Latin appearances in the list of 
Hugh Pudsey's (d. 1195) benefactions to the library of Ehirham Cattie- 
dral.'^ It became widespread only in the fourteenth and fifteenth cen- 
turies, at least partly due to its use by Vincent of Beauvais and Jacobus 
a Voragine. The earliest copies of the EN, dating from between the 
ninth and twelfth centuries, overwhelmingly favor the title that does 
not draw attention to the scriptural canon, Gesta Salvatoris; this appella- 
tion remained common in later manuscripts as weU. 

Even during the high Middle Ages, titles other than Evangelium 
Nicodemi aboimd. Some, like Acta Christi Domini (Paris, BN MS. lat. 
3454, saec. XU) — but not Acta Pilati, a common modem title for the 
Greek version — Parlipomenon de gestis D. N. }. C. (Paris, BN MS. lat, 
14864, saec. Xn ex.), or Explanatio dominicae passionis (Paris, BN MS. lat. 
1933, saec. XU-XHI), highlight the main theme of the work, that is, the 
events of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Others exploit the authority of 
Nicodemus (mentioned in Jn. 3:1, 7:50, and 19:39) but do not refer to 
the work as "evangelium"; such are, for example, Passio Domini secun- 
dum Nicodemum (Cambridge, Peterhouse MS. 242, saec. Xni), Tractatus 
secundum Nicodemum (London, BL MS. Royal 8 B. XV, saec. XTV), His- 
toria Nicodemi (Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS. Digby 16, saec. XTV), and Epistola 
Beati Nichodemi (Basel, Universitatsbibliothek MS. A X 102, saec. XV/2). 

Still others use the word "evangelium" but do not associate it with 
Nicodemus. In several manuscripts, the apocryphon is entitled Ex)an- 
gelium Nazaraeorum,^ and some influential writers were dearly famil- 
iar with this designation; we find it, for example, in Ludolph of 
Saxony's Vita Christi (pt. 2, chap. 75), Thomas of Chobham's Summa de 
arte praedicandi, and Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum rmturale.^ The 
authentic Evangelium Nazaraeorum was apparently familiar to Jerome, 
who repeatedly quoted from the Hebrew gospel used by the Nazar- 
aeans and even claimed to have translated it. It was known in the 
Middle Ages only through a handful of fragments, quoted by Sedulius 
Scotus and Haimo of Auxerre in the ninth century, by Peter Comestor 

tfiek Cod. Guelf. 83.2 Aug. fol. (saec. XV), fol. 246ra, "Et sic est finis euangelii 
Nichodemi et apocrifum . . ." ("And thus ends the Gospel of Nicodemus and an 
apocryphon . . ."). 

^ Ehirham Cathedral, Catalogues of the Library of Durham Cathedral, Publica- 
tions of the Surtees Society, vol. 7 (London: J. B. Nichols and Son, 1838), 119. 

^ The manuscripts in question are CCCC MS. 288 (saec. XJU); Oxford, 
Merton College MS. 13 (saec. XTV ex.-XV); Paris, BN MS. lat. 3338 (saec. Xm ex.- 
XIV in.); and Vatican City, Bibl. Apost. Vatic. MS. Vat. lat. 4578 (saec. XIV). 

** Ludolph of Saxony, Vita Jesu Christi, ed. L. M. Rigollot (Paris: Victor Palm6, 
1878), 4:205; Thomas of Chobhaim, Summa de arte praedicandi, ed. Franco Morenzo- 
ni, CC CM, vol. 82 (Tumhout: Brepols, 1988), 110.696; Vincent of Beauvais, Specu- 
lum naturale (1624; repr., Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1964), 8. 


in Historia scholastica (chap. 178) in the twelfth, by a redactor of Peter 
of Riga's Aurora in the thirteenth, and by a few anonymous writers.^ 
The brevity of the extant fragments makes it difficult to determine the 
exact contents of that spurious gospel; according to Jerome, many 
cor\sidered it the Hebrew original of the Gospel according to Matthew, 
but this view is not generally accepted today. If not a result of genuine 
confusion, the appropriation of the title Evangelium Nazaraeorum for the 
apocryphon of the Passion allegedly written by Nicodemus may have 
been, like the addition of excerpts from pseudo- Augustine and Grego- 
ry of Tours, an attempt to find a respectable patron for the EN and 
thereby bring it into the mainstream of religious culture. The same 
motive may have prompted an English redactor to ascribe the Latin 
translation to St. Ambrose of Milan,^°° and another anonymous scribe 
to mention emperor Constantine in the prologue.^°^ 

Recogrution of the EN's apocryphal nature did not automatically 
necessitate its rejection or condemnation. Medieval attitudes to apocry- 
pha were as varied as the term "apocryphon" was polysemous. Since 
Christian antiquity the term was used to refer to several categories of 
texts: to secret books intended only for the initiated, such as certain 
gnostic writings; to books containing teachings deemed false, untrue, 
or heretical; to books outside the canon, whose liturgical, public use 
was forbidden but which could be used in private devotions; and to 
books that remained in some relation to the Bible but whose author- 
ship was uncertain or unknown. Patristic views on apocrypha ranged 
accordingly from openly hostile to tolerant, depending on the nature 
of the texts designated as apocryphal.^°^ For the Middle Ages, it was 

^ Geerard, Clavis, no. 10. Erich Klostermann, Apocrypha, vol. 2, Evangelien, 3rd 
ed., Kleine Texte fiir Vorlesiingen iind tJbungen, vol. 8 (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 
1929), 4-12; P. Vielhauer, "Jewish-Christian Gospels," in New Testament Apocrypha, 
vol. 1, Gospels and Related Writings, ed. Edgar Hennecke, rev. W. Schneemelcher, 
English trans, ed. R. McL. Wilson (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), 137-39; 
Starowieyski, Apokryfy Nowego Testamentu, 76; Peter Comestor, Historia scholastica, 
PL 198:1633. 

^°° That ascription occurs in four manuscripts, all connected with the British 
Isles: Rome, Biblioteca Alessandrina MS. 120 (saec. XIV); Cambridge, St. John's 
College MS. B. 20 (saec. XH); Cambridge, Trinity College MS. B. 5. 19 (saec. Xm 
in.); and Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS. Bodl. 428 (saec. Xin/1). It also occurs in a medi- 
eval book list from Peterborough Abbey; see M. R. James, Lists of Manuscripts 
Formerly in Peterborough Abbey Library (London: Oxford University Press, 1926), 67. 

^°* Paris, Biblioth^ue Mazarine MS. 1730 (saec. XIV). 

^°^ The literature on the subject is very rich; for a useful survey of patristic 
views, with quotations from relevant authors, see Stephanus Sz^kely, Bibliotheca 
apocrypha. Introductio historico-critica in libros apocryphos utriusque testamenti cum ex- 
plicatione argumenti et doctrinae (Freiburg i. Br.: B. Herder, 1913), 1-9; Marek 
Starowieyski, "Les Apocr)q3hes chez les 6crivans du IV* si^cle," in Miscellanea his- 
toriae ecclesiasticae VL Congrhs de Varsovie (Brussels: Editions Nauwelaerts, 1983), 

Latin Middle Ages 79 

the obscurity of origin rather than heretical, damnable content that 
constituted the primary determinant of apocryphal character. Medieval 
definitior\s emphasize unknown provenance but admit that, although 
apocrypha lack authority, they may contain seeds of truth scattered 
among falsehoods. "Apocrifa autem dici ecclesiastici doctores tradunt; 
non quia omnia mentiantur, sed quia dubiae et suspectae auctoritatis 
esse videantur" ("The doctors of the Church report that apocrypha are 
so called not because they are mendacious, but because their authority 
may seem dubious or suspect"), explains Bemaldus Presbyter Constan- 
tiensis (b. ca. 1054, d. 1100) in his treatise De excommunicatis vitandis, de 
reconciliatione lapsorum et defontibus iuris ecclesiastici}°^ He adds, "Nam 
sepissime multa canonica suis neniis interserunt, quae nequaquam 
catholici cum eisdem neniis refutare debebunt" ("For very often they 
intersperse among their trifles canonical matter, which those who are 
orthodox should by no means refute together with those trifles"). A 
similar definition occurs in Johannes Balbus's Catholicon (1286):^** 
"Apocrifa proprie dicuntur ilia scripta quorum origo et autor ignoratur 
et quamuis sint ibi multa uera tamen non habentur in autoritate prop- 
ter plura falsa que ibi continentur" (" 'Apocrypha' are properly called 
those writings whose origin and author are uiUcnown, and although 
they may contain much truth, they are not considered authoritative on 
account of more falsehoods which they contain").^°^ 

While accepting and popularizing apocrypha as a potential source 
of truth, medieval writers often felt compelled to explain and justify 
their inclusion. Thus, refusing to exclude from her Legendae aUegedly 
apocryphal sources, Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim (b. ca. 935, d. after 
972), points out the limitations of human interpretive faculties, which 
may be deceived by surface appearances; it is better to err on the side 
of caution, since, she says, "quod videtur falsitas, / forsan probabitur 
esse Veritas" ("what appears to be falsehood will, perhaps, be shown 

132-41; and idem, "Izydor z Sewilli i Apokryfy," Acta Universitatis Nicolai 
Copemici, Historia 27, Nauki Humanistyczno-Spoteczne, Zeszyt 254 (1992): 151-57. 

^°^ Bemaldus Presbyter Constantiensis, De excommunicatis vitandis, de reconci- 
liatione lapsorum et defontibus iuris ecclesiastici, ed. Fridericus Thaner, in Libelli de 
lite imperatorum et pontificum saeculis XI. et XII. conscripti, vol. 2, MGH (Hannover: 
Impensis Bibliopoli Hahniani, 1892), 124. 

^^ Johannes Balbus, Catholicon (1460; repr., Famborough, Hunts.: Gregg Inter- 
national Publishers, 1971), s.v. "apocrifus." 

'°^ Carolus EXi Fresne Du Cange, Glossarium mediae et infimse latinitatis, ed. 
Lipoid Favre, vol. 1 (1883-87; repr. [10 vols, in 5], Graz: Akademische Druck- u. 
Verlagsanstalt, 1954), s.v. "apocrypha," attributes this definition to Johannes de 


to be truth").^°^ Hrotsvitha does not presume to distinguish between 
truth and falsehood where pious matter blurs the distinction, lest in 
doing so she condemn some grains of truth. A similar sentiment is 
expressed three centuries later by the anonymous author of the Vita 
beate virginis Marie et Salvatoris rhythmica. In the prologue to book 1, he 
warns against hasty condemnation of apocryphal sources: "Si quis ut 
apocrifum hoc velit reprobare / Caveat, ne veritatem presumat con- 
dempnare" (w. 33-34; "Should someone wish to reprove this as apoc- 
ryphal, let him beware lest he presume to condemn the truth"). ^"'^ 
Otiher writers appeal to genuine scriptural texts which allude to the 
fact that many events in Christ's life have not been recorded in the 
canonical gospels, implying that they may have been described else- 
where. Thus they argue, on the strength of John 20:30-31, John 21:25, 
and Luke 1:1-2, that many early Christian writers wrote gospels but 
that for the confirmation of our faith only four are necessary.^"* One 
such defense of the EN, based on John 21:25, is inserted into the first 
prologue of at least one Latin manuscript of the EN, Paris, BN MS. n. a. 
lat. 1154, fol. llr, and this was ako part of the argument used by John 
Wyclif to defend the apocryphon in the fourteenth century.^"' 

This enthusiasm for noncanonical writings was, however, usually 
held in check by other biblical passages, such as Proverbs 30:6, Deuter- 
onomy 4:2 <md Revelation 22:18-19, which acted as restraints on 

'°* Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, Hrotsvithae Opera, ed. H. Homeyer (Munich: 
F. Schoningh, 1970), 37. 

'"'' A. Vogtlin, ed.. Vita beate virginis Marie et Salvatoris rhythmica, Bibliothek 
des Litterarischen Vereins, vol. 180 (Tubingen: Gedruckt fur den Litterarischen 
Verein in Stuttgart, 1888); Walther, Carmina medii aeoi, nos. 10692, 17018, 17250. 
Cf. a gloss to the Vita rhythmica which states, "Apocrifum est, cuius auctor ignora- 
tur; unde eius scriptura nee pro vero recipitur nee pro falso reprobatur" ("An 
apocryphon is [a work] whose author is unknown; hence its text is neither 
accepted as true nor rejected as false"); see Max Papke, Das Marienleben des 
Schweizers Wemher. Mit Nachtragen zu Vogtlin's Ausgabe der Vita Marie rhythmica. 
Palaestra, vol. 81 (Berlin: Mayer & Miiller, 1913), 123. 

'** A gloss to the Vita rhythmica reads: "Beatus Jeronimus testatur quod multi 
scripserunt ewangelia, sicut est Ewangelium Nazareorum, Ewangelium Thome, 
Ewangelium Mathei, Ewangelium Bartholomei, Ewangelium Nichodemi, Ewcinge- 
liimi Hebreorum, sicut ipse beatus Jeronimus transtulit, Ewangelium Petri, quod 
scribitur secimdum Marctim. Tamen ad confirmadonem fidei suffidunt quatuor 
ewcingelia, que tenet ecdesia" ("Blessed Jerome testifies that many wrote gospels, 
such as the Gospel according to the Nazareans, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of 
Matthew, Gospel of Bartholomew, Gospel of Nicodemus, Gospel according to the 
Hebrews whidi blessed Jerome himself translated. Gospel of Peter which is writ- 
ten according to Mark. But for the confirmation of faith the four gospels which 
are accepted by the church are suffident"); see Papke, Das Marienleben, 137-38. 

'"^ John Wyclif, De veritate Sacrae Scripturae, ed. Rudolf Budder\sieg, Wyclif 
Sodety (London: Triibner, 1905), 1:237. 

Latin Middle Ages 81 

excessive credulity and fantastic imagination. The caution advised by 
these texts and exercised by those who wrote apologies for the use of 
apocrypha sometimes took the shape of explicit admorutions to readers 
to exercise their own discretion in reading and believing works of 
imcertain authorship. Jacobus a Voragine (or his source), for instance, 
usually alerts his readers to the spuriousness of his sources, whose 
credibility, he advises, they should judge for themselves.^^° He does 
not, however, attach a similar warning to his summary of the DI. The 
legendary Harrowing of Hell, attested also in what he considered to be 
the writings of St. Augustine (i.e., the pseudo-Augustinian "Sermo 
160," which he quotes in extenso), apparentiy raised no doubts in his 
mind and required no such precaution. 

One reason why the EN was often felt to be in little need of justifi- 
cation or defense was that it was regarded as a historical record of 
events, fortified as it was by alleged patristic authority and rooted in 
Christiein tradition. Its common titie {Gesta Salvatoris . . .), the second 
prologue, and the appendices relating to the emperors of Rome all 
implied a historical document (which does not mean, however, that it 
could not be used to support an exegetical or theological argument; see 
below). As an independent record of Christ's Passion, "triduum 
mortis," and Resurrection, the EN was appreciated by medieval his- 
torians, such as Ademar de Chabaimes (989-1034), who made his own 
copy of the apocryphon (Paris, BN MS. lat. 3784, fols. 108v-14r),"^ 
and often exploited by chroniclers who incorporated it into their 
works. A fourteenth-century English author of the Eulogium (histo- 
riarum sive temporis) includes the entire EN, followed by the EP and a 
version of the Cura}^^ He introduces them with a single titie. Chronica 
Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, and a statement of intention, "Cum de 
Regibus et Prindpibus et de eonmi gestis in bellis, in victoriis, in 
pugna, et fuga pluries tractavimus, de Rege Regum jam intendimus 
aliquid enarrare" ("Since we have frequentiy spoken of kings and 
princes and of their deeds in wars, in victories, in battie, and in flight, 
we now intend to relate something about the King of Kings"), indicat- 

"° "Hucusque in praedicta hystoria apocrypha legitur, quae utrum redtanda 
sit, lectoris <irbitrio relinquatur" (chap. 45; "That mudi is found in the aforesaid 
apocryphal history; it may be left to the reader's judgement whether to read it 
out"); cf. chaps. 53 and 67 ( Jacobus a Voragine, hegeruia aurea, 185, 234, 301). 

"' Richard Landes, "A Libellus from St. Martial of Limoges Written in the 
Time of Ademar of Chabannes (99&-1034)," Scriptorium 37 (1983): 190 n. 48, and 

'" Frank Scott Haydon, ed., Eulogium (historiarum sive temporis): Chronicon ab 
orbe condito usque ad annum Domini M. CCC. LXVI a monacho quodam Malmesburien- 
si exaratum, vol. 1, Rer. Brit. M. A. Script., vol. 9 (London: Longman, Brown, 
Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1858). 


ing an essentially historical interest in the narrative. John of Glaston- 
bury's attitude to the EN is similar, although he uses the text more 
selectively. Aiming to demonstrate the antiquity of the Glastonbury 
foundation and its connection with Joseph of Arimathea, the chronicler 
abridges and adapts chapters 12-15 of the EN under the heading 
"Incipit tractatus de sancto Joseph ab Arimathia, extractus de libro 
quodam quern invenit Theodosius imperator in Jerusalem in pretorio 
Pilati" ("Here begins the treatise of St. Joseph of Arimathea, taken 
from a book which emperor Theodosius found in Pilate's council- 
chamber in Jerusalem"). ^^^ The sentence introducing the narrative ex- 
plains that what follows are undisputed facts extracted from "antiquis 
historiagraphorum dictis" ("ancient sayings of historiographers")."^ 

Jn the intense religious atmosphere of the later Middle Ages and 
pre-Reformation, this acceptance of the EN at times grew so enthusias- 
tic that some scribes began to perceive it as quasi-canonical, their 
respect for it verging on veneration. Not only is it sometimes placed 
among exegetical works, but in several manuscripts it is directly con- 
nected with the canonical gospels. Jn a late fourteenth-century manu- 
script of the Bible executed possibly for Richard JJ of England (London, 
BL MS. Royal 1 E. JX), the EN is treated as if it were a fifth gospel: it 
follows the Old Testament and the four gospels but precedes the 
Epistles, Acts, and Apocalypse. It is here endowed with an almost 
canonical status, and orUy the lesser extent of its decoration betrays 
that those responsible for production of the manuscript did in fact 
distinguish, however hesitantly, between canonical and apocryphal 
texts. In three additional manuscripts from the same period, the EN is 
adjacent to the canonical Scriptures, its own status bordering on theirs 
(Brno, Statru vSdecka knihovna MS. Mk 79, saec. XV in.; Munich, BSB 
Clm 11403, saec. XV/2, and Clm 28168, saec. XIV); in several others, it 
is separated from them with empty folios or minor intervening texts 
(GdaAsk, Biblioteka Polskiej Akademii Nauk MS. 1956, saec. XV; 
Klostemeuburg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 151, saec. XV in.; Muruch, BSB 

"^ John of Glastonbury, The Chronicle of Glastonbury Abbey: An Edition, Trans- 
lation and Study of John of Glastonbury's "Cronica sive Antiquitates Glastoniensis 
Ecdesie," ed. James P. Carley, trans. David Townsend (Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk: 
Boydell Press, 1985), 46; cf. Carl Horstman, ed.. Nova legenda Angliae: As Collected 
by John of Tynemouth, John Capgrave, and Others, and First Printed, with New Lives, 
by Wynkyn de Worde . . . (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901), 2:78-80. 

"* It is also noteworthy that in six manuscripts the EN co-occurs with Geof- 
frey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae; see Julia C. Crick, Dissemination and 
Reception in the Later Middle Ages, The Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of 
Monmouth, vol. 4 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1991), 45-46, and idem, A Summary 
Catalogue of Manuscripts, The Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Mon- 
mouth, vol. 3 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1989), 272. 

Latin Middle Ages 83 

Clm 22353, saec. XV; and Trier, Bibliothek des Bischoflichen Priest^r- 
seminars MS. 114, saec. XVI in.).^^^ Nevertheless, it would be an 
exaggeration to claim that late medieval users of the EN generally 
considered its authority as equal to that of the canonical gospels. For 
the majority of late medieval readers, the EN probably remained a 
humanly pious rather than divinely inspired text. The manuscripts 
mentioned above reflect a rather extreme tendency which eventually 
provoked a strong reaction from both Protestant and Catholic circles 
and which may be responsible for the EN's ultimate downfall. 

3. The influence of the Evangelium Nicodemi 

To judge by the number of extant manuscripts of the EN and its para- 
phrases, the apocryphon enjoyed wide readership in the Middle Ages, 
especially from the twelfth century onwards. Not surprisingly, its 
ir\fluence spread to many domains of religious life: its vivid traces can 
be found in the writings of ecclesiastical thii\kers and educators, in 
works aiding private piety, and in certain texts and practices of com- 
munal devotion. At least until the fifteenth century, the EN was read 
with enthusiasm and quoted without qualms about its apocryphal 
character, its imagination and antiquity compensating, it seems, for its 
lack of canonical authority. 

3.1. Theological and didactic discourses 

Although it was the pious, historical-legendary content rather than 
theological underpinnings of the EN that captivated medieval audi- 
ences, the pervasive presence of the apocryphon in the cultural milieu 
was bound to affect at least the peripheries of religious belief. It could 
be found in the libraries of many scholars and teachers who helped 
shape medieval theological discourse. Martin Hibemensis (b. 819, d. 
875), the first master of the school of Laon and a colleague of John 
Scotus Eriugena, owned a copy of the EN, which later passed to his 
successors, Bernard (b. 847, d. 903) and Adelelm (b. ca. 865, d. 930) of 
Laon (it now survives as Laon, Bibl. mun. MS. 265). Jan Kanty ( Johan- 
nes Cantius; b. 1390, d. 1473; canoruzed 1767), a doctor of theology at 
the Jagielloruan University in Cracow, copied the EN for his own use 
(now Cracow, Biblioteka JagielloAska MS. 2724). And Gabriel Biel (b. 
ca. 1410, d. 1495), the last scholastic of the Middle Ages, inserted an 

"^ Several manuscripts of vernacular translations of tfie EN, espedcdly from 
the German-speaking regions, follow suit; see below, pp. 305-9. 


ownership note in the manuscript that belonged to the Brothers of the 
Common Life in Butzbach (now Giessen, Universitatsbibliothek MS. 
729). Through readers like these, the EN could have influenced, if only 
in a minor way, theological reflection of the Middle Ages. 

Besides reinforcing in obvious ways the belief in and speculation 
about Christ's Descent into Hell, the EN may have helped shape late 
medieval notions about infernal topography, although such influence 
was not, as far as I know, explicitly acknowledged by medieval writ- 
ers. In some of its forms, the EN implied that the infernal space was 
not uniform: there was one location where the ancient patriarchs and 
prophets awaited Christ's coming, the limbo of the fathers, and there 
was the abyss. Texts of the B type introduce a sharp contrast between 
the "profimdum abyssi" into which Satan is cast and the place of the 
patriarchs (chap. 25). By specifying that Christ "partem deiecit in 
tartarum, partem secum reduxit ad superos" (chap. 25.2; "cast part into 
Tartarus, part he brought again with him on high"),"^ B texts may 
have contributed, however indirectly, to the evolution of the notion of 
purgatory, for they demonstrate that "the fate of certain men is suscep- 
tible to amelioration after death, if only in exceptional circumstances" 
and that "the souls cast into Tartarus, the hell of the damned, are 
excluded from the possibility of improvement in their condition. "^^^ 
If EN B antedates the eleventh century, as Jacques Le Goff assumes, 
then it might indeed have exerted some of that pressure under which 
new ideas about the underworld crystallized in the first centuries of 
the second millennium; if it is later, as the relatively late dates of its 
manuscripts suggest,"® it may be a symptom of that conceptual 
change, albeit one that could easily stimulate further evolution. 

Not ir\f requently, the EN entered medieval reflection on eschatolo- 
gical matters, especially in relation to the question of bodily resurrec- 
tion. It figures prominently in the writings of Albert the Great (b. ca. 
1200, d. 1280), who repeatedly appeals to its authority in his De resur- 
rectione. Commenting on Matthew 27:52-53 and the implied partial 
resurrection of the dead "quorum quidam nominantur in EVANGELIO 
NICODEMI" (Tract. 2, Q. 4.2; "some of whom are named in the GOSPEL 
OF NiCODEMUS"), he explains that "ideo necessarium fuit aliquos 

"* In EN A, Inferus seems to be reproaching Satan for causing the universal 
deliverance from hell, "et totius mundi noxios, impios et iniustos perdidisti" 
(chap. 23.2; "and you lost the guilty, the ungodly, and the unrighteous"). In the 
very next paragraph, however, Christ addresses only "sanctes mei omnes" (chap. 
26.1; "all my saints"). 

"^ Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chic- 
ago: Uruversity of Chicago Press, 1984), 44-45. 

"* Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," 181. 

Latin Middle Ages 85 

resiirgere statim in morte Christi, ut aliqua praesumptio resurrectionis 
remaneret in electis" (Tract. 2, Q. 4, ad 2; "it was, therefore, necessary 
to resurrect some immediately after Christ's death so that some confi- 
dence in the Resurrection should remain in the elect").^^' By naming 
those who rose before Christ to testify to the mystery of his Resurrec- 
tion, the EN confirms that they were known in Jerusalem; "si enim 
fuissent ignoti, non fuisset eis creditum" (Tract. 2, Q. 5, ad 5; "if they 
had been uiUcnown, they would not have been believed").^^'' The EN 
thus provides supplementary information necessary for proper under- 
standing of a difficult passage in Matthew. In his discussion of the 
whereabouts, during the forty days after Christ's Resurrection, of those 
who rose at the moment of his death, Albert quotes a portion of EN 
17.1, and concludes: 

solvendum est per dictam auctoritatem [i.e., the EN], quia 
ultra lordanem in paradiso fuerunt in plena fruitione divinita- 
tis lesu. Unde etiam narratur IBI, qualiter Ellas et Enoch tripu- 
dium habuerunt cum ipsis et latro. (Tract. 2, Q. 7, Art. Tf^^ 

(it should be resolved by the said authority [i.e., the EN] that 
they were beyond Jordan in paradise in full enjoyment of 
Jesus' divinity. Hence it is also narrated THERE how Elijah and 
Enoch rejoiced with them and the Thief.) 

For Albert, the EN is apparently as authoritative as the patristic tradi- 
tion and, therefore, a legitimate source of knowledge concerning mat- 
ters of faith. 

Similarly, Thomas of Chobham, an early thirteenth-century writer, 
in his Summa de arte praedicandi adduces the EN as an independent wit- 
ness to the partial bodily resurrection at the time of Christ's rising 
from the grave. He considers that event as foreshadowing future gen- 
eral resurrection: 

Patet etiam per doctrinam euuangelicam, quod corpora nostra 
resurgent, quia Dominus post resurrectionem corpus suum 
ostendit palpabile, et multa corpora sanctorum que dormierant 
resurrexerunt cum Domino. Et in Euuangelio Nazareorum 
[i.e., ENf^ legitur qui illi fuerint et quomodo cum ludeis 

"' Albert the Great, De resurrectione, ed. Wilhelmus Kiibel, in Sancti doctoris 
ecclesiae Alberti Magni . . . Opera omnia, vol. 26 (Miinster in Westfalen: Aschendorff, 
1958), 262. 

>^ Ibid., 263. 

"' Ibid., 270. 

^^ On the use of the title Evangelium Nazaraeorum, see shove, p. 77. 

*^ Thomas of Chobham, Summa, 110. 


(The teaching of the gospels makes it also clear that our bodies 
will rise because the Lord showed his tangible body after the 
Resurrection, and many bodies of saints who had slept rose 
up with the Lord. And it is read in the Gospel according to 
the Nazaraeans [i.e., EN] who they were and how they con- 
tended with the Jews.) 

Thomas's use of the EN to strengthen his eschatological argument 
in the essentially pastoral context of the Summa is characteristic of the 
ease with which the apocryphon entered popular theological ir\struc- 
tion. Besides reaffirming bodily resurrection, one of the most pervasive 
influences of the EN on medieval catechesis consisted in popularization 
of the idea of Joseph of Arimathea's Christophany, which in common 
belief became Christ's first (or second, after his similarly apocryphal 
visit to his mother) appearance. The widely used and respected Eluci- 
darium disseminated that belief, appealing directly to the EN: 

D. — Quotiens apparuit? 

M. — Duodecies. Primo die octies: primo Joseph ab Arimathia 
in carcere in quo positus erat eo quod eum sepelierat, ut 
scripta Nicodemi declarant.^^"* 

(D. — ^How many times did he appear? 

M. — Twelve. On the first day eight times: first to Joseph of 
Arimathea in prison, where he was placed because he had 
buried him, as the writings of Nicodemus declare.) 

Joseph's Christophany, mentioned on the strength of the same apocry- 
phal authority already by Gregory of Tours, was frequently cited 
throughout the Middle Ages, although some theologians, such as Hugh 
of St. Cher, had strong reservations regarding its authenticity.^^ 

3.2. Devotional literature 

The establishment of Christ's life as the basis for the liturgical year and 
the growing theological interest in Christ's humaruty in the eleventh 

124 Yves Lef^vre, ed., L'Elucidarium et les lucidaires (Pairis: E. de Boccard, 1954), 
391. Cf. Werner of St. Blasius, "Sermo de resurrectione Domini," PL 157:927D. 

'^ See, for instance, his commentary on Lk. 23:50, "Unde tradunt quidam, 
sed non est autenticum, Dominum primo apparuisse Joseph incarcerato, quia 
solus de discipulis erat incarceratus pro eo, licet hoc in Evangelio non legatur" 
("Hence some report — although this is not authentic — that the Lord first appeared 
to the imprisoned Joseph, because he alone among the disdples was imprisoned 
for him, although this may not be read in the gospel"), Hugonis de Sancto Charo S. 
Romanx Ecclesix tituli S. Sabinx primi cardinalis Ordinis Prxdicatorum, tomus sextus 
in Evangelia secundum Mattlweum, Lucam, Marcum, & Joannem . . . (Venice: N. Pez- 
zana, 1732), fol. 271va. 

Latin Middle Ages 87 

and twelfth centuries turned the events of Christ's earthly existence 
into focal points of devotion. From the twelfth century onward, terse 
gospel harmonies began to absorb extrabiblical — legendary and apoc- 
ryphal — elements, expanding in scope and altering the nature of the 
genre.^^^ In their search for emotive details, authors of the lives of 
Christ, and especially of Passion narratives, frequently turned to the 
EN. The pseudo-gospel had much to offer: it enhanced — by naming 
them — the reality of certain characters mentioned in the canonical 
gospels, embellished the gospel accounts with additional miracles, and 
elaborated what was merely hinted at in the canonical texts. Its venera- 
ble age, combined with the patronage of Nicodemus and, occasionally, 
of other church authorities made it, in spite of its noncanonical status, 
an attractive and trustworthy source. 

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the EN became — directly 
or through one of its summaries — a standard source for accounts of the 
Passion. It was frequently quoted, paraphrased, or just mentioned to 
satisfy the need for authority. For instance, the prose Tractatus de gestis 
Domini Salvatoris, preserved in a fifteenth-century manuscript, London, 
BL MS. Royal 7 B. Xn, but compiled probably earlier by an English 
author,^^^ draws on the apocryphon freely. It deals with the life of 
Christ and various related matters, incorporating portions of the 
Disputatio fudaei cum Christiana of Gilbert Crispin (bk. 11) and materials 
on the cross (bk. 12) and on the body and blood of Christ (bks. 13, 14). 
The seventh book, fols. 98r-118r, described in the list of contents on 
fol. llr as freating "de descensione Domini ad inferos, de nobili eius 
friumpho illic exacto" ("on the Descent of the Lord into Hell, on his 
noble triumph accomplished there") contains substantial excerpts from 
the DI. They were culled probably from a version of the EN which 
included the legitimizing passages from Gregory of Tours and pseudo- 
Augustine on Joseph and on the Harrowing, respectively; the author 
opens his freatise with these very passages, followed by a spirited 
defense of the EN's credibility and respectability: 

Nemo vituperandum censeat quod hie in subsequenti volu- 
mine verba Nichodemi euangelistarii dictis interserantur licet 
a quibusdam iniuste inter apocriphancium noncupentur con- 

'^ Elizabeth Salter, Nicholas Love's "Myrrour of the Blessed Lyf of ]esu Christ," 
Analecta Cartusiana, vol. 10 (Salzburg: Institut fiir engUsche Sprache und Litera- 
tur, Universitat Salzburg, 1974), 59-60. 

^^ George F. Warner and Julius P. Gilson, British Museum. Catalogue of West- 
em Manuscripts in the Old Royal and King's Collections, vol. 1 (London: Printed for 
the Trustees, 1921), 170, suggest that "A story of the wars of Baldwin [IV?], King 
of Jerusalem, told on the authority of an eyewitness (lib. xii, cap. 46) seems to fix 
the date of composition as about the end of the twelfth century." 


sorcia, cum symbolum et alia autentica scripta sanctorum 
patrum alicubi verbo ad verbum ipsius consonent tractatui; 
nee scripta eius in decretis vel alibi prohibita legantur. (Fol. lOr) 

(No one should consider blameworthy that here in the ensu- 
ing volume the words of Nicodemus the evangelist are inter- 
spersed among the sayings, even if some may unjustly consign 
them to the company of apocrypha, since the creed and other 
authentic writings of the holy fathers agree in some places 
word for word with his treatise; nor may his writings be 
found prohibited in decretals or anywhere else.) 

While the compiler of the above treatise worked directly from a 
manuscript of the EN, other writers relied on intermediary sources 
which filtered and colored the substance of the apocryphal gospel. 
Although he appeals to the authority of Nicodemus, the author of the 
early thirteenth-century Vita beate virginis Marie et Salvatoris rhythmica, 
a long narrative poem important for its legacy in central European 
vernaculars, certainly did not use the EN itself. The four books of the 
Vita rhythmica give a detailed account of the lives of the Virgin and her 
son, drawn from a variety of sources, many of which are identified in 
the prologues to individual books and in marginal glosses. The poet, 
aware that some of his sources are apocryphal, defends their credibility 
(w. 1478-1505; 3632-53; 6062-71), yet— since his declared intention is 
to praise the Virgin and Christ, not to judge the truth or falsehood of 
his sources (w. 43-46; 8002-7) — he pleads with his readers to correct 
his errors as they see fit (w. 39^6; 1514-17; 3654-61; 6080-87; 7994- 
8001; 8008-13). 

The poem alludes to the EN several times in the sections on the 
Passion and Resurrection, but the apocryphon plays a rather minor role 
in the overall design of the narrative. The poet disregards it in the 
accounts of the trial before Pilate and the Crucifixion and does not men- 
tion the names of Veroruca, Longinus, Dismas, or Gestas; he turns to it 
only in the section entitled "De signis que fiebant in passione Domini" 
(w. 5808-911; "On the signs that accompanied the Passion of the Lord"), 
a sort of afterthought on the extraordinary portents associated with the 
Passion, drawn in part from Peter Comestor's Historia schokstica}^ In 
that chapter, he first alludes to the imminent Harrowing of Hell and the 
patriarchs' jubilant expectation of deliverance (w. 5838-45), and then 
recounts, in a curiously distorted maimer, the episode of the standards 
bowing before Christ (w. 5848-67), based ultimately on EN 1.5. He 

'^ Achim Masser, Bibel, Apokryphen und Legenden. Geburt und Kindheit fesu in 
der religiosen Epik des deutschen Mittelalters (Berlin: E. Schmidt, 1%9), 52-53. 

Latin Middle Ages 89 

explains that the standards had been made by the Jews and on festive 
occasions were carried by them around Solomon's temple. It is under 
such circumstances that the standards bowed before Christ 

Sed cum circa templum hec portantur, cimi ligatus 
Jesus coram preside stabat flagellatus. 
Tunc versus locum in quo Jesus stetit simul ilia 
Indinabant baiulis invitis se vexilla. (Vv. 5854-57) 

(But as these were being carried around the temple when 
Jesus was standing bound and scourged before the governor, 
the standards simultaneously inclined, against the will of the 
bearers, towards the place where Jesus was standing.) 

This explanation of the standards' origin and this accoxmt of the epi- 
sode contrast with the EN, in which the standards, implied to be 
imperial ensigns, are held by "uiri pagani" ("pagan men"; EN A and 
C) or "uiri gentili" ("gentile men"; EN B). A separate account of the 
Harrowing of Hell, entitled "De gaudio sanctorum quum Jesus venit 
ad infemum" ("On the joy of the saints when Jesus came into heU"), 
compressed into twenty lines (w. 6042-61), gives little more than a 
sketch of the episode. In later sections, the Vita rhythmica mentions 
Pilate's letter to Rome concerning the events in Jerusalem (w. 6126-29) 
and Joseph of Arimathea's Christophany (w. 6142-45). All these 
thematic echoes of the pseudo-gospel, except for Pilate's letter, are 
accompanied in the manuscripts of the Vita by marginal glosses (at w. 
5838, 5848, 6042, 6142), explicitly identifying the EN as their source. 
Although the evidence is not always compelling, the implied genetic 
relationships are not impossible, and the EN may in fact lie behind the 
poem, even if only at several removes from it. In a few instances, how- 
ever, similar glosses pointing to the EN as the underlying text are 
attached to passages narrating events with no obvious counterparts in 
ttie known versions of the apocryphon. One such gloss occiu^ at 
v. 4774, at the head of the section describing how the Jews bribed 
Pilate to condemn Jesus; another at v. 5114, beside a passage contrast- 
ing the derisive laughter of the executioners and the sorrow of Christ's 
followers; and yet another at v. 6430, beginning an accoimt of the 
angelic powers' jubilation at Christ's Ascension.^^ The vagueness 

'^ Such inaccurate references to the EN are not unusual in Passion tracts. The 
unedited prose treatise Historia passionis lesu Christi in Freiburg im Breisgau, Uni- 
versitatsbibliothek MS. 178b (saec. XV), mentions the EN twice: once incorrectly, 
suggesting tfiat the EN contains a conversation l>etween Herod and Christ (fbl. 6r, 
"In ewangelio Nycodemi didtur quod Herodes quesiuit a Christo, Ts tu ne puer 

iste '" ['It is said in the Gospel of Nicodemus that Herod asked Christ, 'Are 

you not that boy. . . .' "]), tiie second time more accurately in the context of 
Pilate's argument with tiie Jews about Christ's innocence (fol. 7v). 


and distortions in the genuine echoes of the EN, the absence of the 
personal names popularized by it, and the misplaced and inaccurate 
glosses all suggest that the author (or the glossator, if different from 
the author) was not intiniately familiar with the apocryphon and that 
the apocryphal echoes in the Vita rhythmica originated not directly in 
the EN but either in an intermediate compilation or in imperfect 

Particularly interesting is the connection of the EN with the tradi- 
tion of affective meditation of Christ's suffering manhood, which first 
acquired prominence in religious life and literature in the eleventh cen- 
tury. Devotional practice of reflection on and compassion with Christ 
and his mother was spread during the later Middle Ages through such 
brief but emotionally charged texts as the Planctus Mariae (beg. "Quis 
dabit . . ."), usually ascribed to Bernard of Clairvaux but probably by 
Olgerius of Tridino, and the Dialogus beatae Mariae et Anselmi de passione 
Domini,^^ as well as through the more extensive Meditationes vitae 
Christi of pseudo-Bonaventure^^^ and the equally comprehensive Vita 
Jesu Christi of Ludolph of Saxony. Different as these texts are in their 
approaches to affective devotion, they all betray the presence of the EN 
in medieval literature of affective piety. 

Both the Planctus and the Dialogus present, in response to the pious 
request of a medieval speaker, the Virgin's account of Christ's Passion 
and of her own compassion with his suffering. Both are rendered in 
direct speech and create an effect of dramatic immediacy, the intense 
words of the Virgin reaching the reader with their full emotive force, 
unmitigated by a reporting voice. This dramatic mode of presentation 
is similar to the drama of the EN, which enables the reader to create a 
similar effect of presence at and experience of the reported events. Per- 
haps this formal similarity and a wealth of detail useful for meditation 
on Christ's Passion, death, and Resurrection attracted the EN to collec- 
tions of meditative texts. From the thirteenth century on, the EN not 
only occurs in the same manuscripts as the Planctus and the Dialogus 
but is frequently contiguous with them. The frequency of its appear- 
ance in the company of the two texts suggests deliberate arrangement 
rather than coincidence: the EN accompanies the Planctus in at least 

^^ Most recently, the Planctus has been edited by C. W. Marx, "The Quis dabit 
of Oglerius of Tridino, Monk and Abbot of Locedio," Journal of Medieval Latin 4 
(1994): 118-29; for the Dialogus, see Oskar Schade, Interrogatio sancti Anshelmi de 
passione Domini (Konigsberg: Typis academicis DaUcowskianis, 1870), and PL 159: 

"' Pseudo-Bonaventure, Meditationes vitae Christi, in S. R. E. Cardinalis S. 
Bonaventurae . . . Opera omnia, ed. A. C. Peltier vol. 12 (Paris: L. Vivfes, 1868), 509- 

Latin Middle Ages 91 

eighteen manuscripts, in fourteen directly preceding or following it; it 
is adjacent to the Dialogus in ten, and in another five separated from it 
by intervening texts.^^^ Moreover, in a number of manuscripts the 
EN is not merely placed next to a single meditative text but inserted in 
the middle of meditative collections. In London, BL MS. Cotton Vesp. 
E. I, for example, it follows the meditation on the Passion ascribed to 
St. Bernard and is in turn followed by the Planctus and further medita- 

The Meditationes vitae Christi and the Vita Jesu Christi, two of the 
most influential late medieval affective treatises on the life of Christ, 
show which details from the EN were used in meditations and how 
they were integrated into meditative texts. The author of the Meditatio- 
nes explains in his prologue that since not everything about Christ 
worthy of meditation has been written down, he narrates — according 
to devout imagination — ^what could be believed to have happened.^^ 
This explanation is in effect cin apology for the use in meditations of 
apocryphal, extra-canonical material. Although the author does not 
quote it extensively, he derives several details directly or indirectly 
from the EN. He knows, for instance, the name of Longinus (chap. 80), 
makes Christ convey the patriarchs to the terrestrial paradise and meet 
there with Enoch and Elijah (chap. 85), and briefly relates Joseph's 
Christophany (chap. 89), admittedly on the authority of the EN (chap. 
96, "Quomodo autem apparuit Joseph, dicitur in Evangelio Nicodemi"; 
"But how Christ appeared to Joseph is related in the Gospel of Nicode- 

In his Vita, Ludolph of Saxony often relies on the Meditationes, 
excerpting from it liberally. His passages on the Harrowing of Hell (pt. 
2, chap. 68),^^ with echoes of the EN, are copied directly from pseudo- 
Bonaventure's work. However, at least three times he refers inde- 
pendently to the EN, which he knew probably from some intermediate 
text, such as the Legenda aurea. In fact, the earliest allusion to the 
apocryphon, in pt. 2, chapter 61.11,^^^ which reports Christ's answers 

'^ For the manuscripts of the Planctus, see Izydorczyk, Manuscripts, nos. 18, 
24, 53, 61, 63, 65, 109, 167, 181, 209, 227, 239, 250, 279, 294, 313, 380, and 404 (cf. 
41, 151); for those of the Dialogus, see nos. 2, 86, 114, 116, 123, 138, 186, 236, 244, 
262, 308, 339, 350, 403, and 421. 

'^ Other manuscripts with the EN embedded in meditative contexts include 
Peiris, BN MS. lat. 3628 (saec. XV); Hannover, Niedersachsische Landesbibliothek 
MS. I 247 (saec. XIV); and Oxford, Bodl. Ub. MS. Bodl. 555 (saec. XV in.). 

^^ Pseudo-Bonaventure, Meditationes, 511. 

'^ Ibid., 608, 613, 619, 623. 

'* Ludolph of Saxony, Vita Jesu Christi, 169-70. 

'^ Ibid., 58. 


to Pilate about truth {EN 3.2), may have been excerpted from the 
Legenda, chapter 53/^ with only a change of the title to Evangelium 
Nazaraeorum. The second allusion, this time to the Evangelium Nicodemi, 
in pt. 2, chapter 62.27,"' gives Pilate's sentence against Christ {EN 
9.5). Finally, the story of Joseph's Christophany and deliverance from 
prison is related again "ut legitur in Evangelio Nazaraeorum" (pt. 2, 
chap. 75; "as can be read in the Gospel according to the Naza- 
raeans");^*" it is introduced in the same way as in the Meditationes 
but gives more details concerning Joseph's incarceration. 

3.3. Liturgical practices and texts 

The extent of the EN's influence on communal worship is difficult to 
establish. That the apociyphon interacted in some ways with liturgical 
practices and observances is almost certain, but the precise nature of 
those interactions escapes definition, since unequivocal textual proof 
for them is elusive, especially for the first millermium. The EN would 
not be the first or the only apocryphon to interact with liturgical texts 
and practices; other apocrypha too inspired or reinforced various forms 
of worship and ritual. Thus, for example, liturgical celebration of the 
life of the Virgin Mary (Immaculate Conception, Nativity, Presentation 
in the Temple) is greatly indebted to the Protoevangelium lacobi, as are 
the cults of Mary's parents, Aime and Joachim; celebration of the 
Assumption of the Virgin was influenced by the Transitus Mariae; and 
strict observance of Sunday rest may owe something to the letter on 
the subject received from heaven.^*^ Moreover, apocryphal texts were 
occasionally adapted to liturgical contexts and actually used in public 
worship, as illustrated by an apocryphal gospel of infancy preserved in 
a thirteenth-century Hereford manuscript,^^ which was incorporated 
into the Office of the Feast of the Conception (December 10). Even 
more frequently, apocrypha were adapted as homilies, such as those 
based on Pseudo-Matthew and the Transitus Mariae in the Carolingian 
homiliary from Saint-Pere, Chartres.^^ Liturgical affiliations of the 
EN would, therefore, be neither unique nor, indeed, unexpected. 

'^ Jacobus a Voragine, Legenda aurea, 226. 
'^ Ludolph of Saxony, Vita Jesu Christi, 84. 

**> Ibid., 205. 

"' Edina Boz6ky, "Les Apocryphes bibliques," in Le Moyen Age et la Bible, ed. 
Pierre Rich^ zind Guy Lobrichon (Paris: Beauchesne, 1984), 433-34. 

**^ M. R. James, ed., Latin Infancy Gospels: A New Text, vnth a Parallel Version 
from Irish (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1927). 

^^ Henri Barr^, Les Homeliaires carolingiens de I'icole d'Auxerre, Studi e testi, 
vol. 225 (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1962), 22, 24. 

Latin Middle Ages 93 

The relationship between the EN and liturgy may extend as far 
back as the apocryphon's formative period. Its dramatic character and 
its abundant use of direct speech are reminiscent of liturgical com- 
memorations of Christ's Passion and Resurrection.^^ The DI especial- 
ly seems to be rooted, thematically and rhetorically, in dramatic 
liturgy. Not only does it elaborate the popular theme of catabasis, but 
its antithetical questions echo Christological hymns,^*^ and its reitera- 
tive recitation of Ps. 23 resembles early celebrations of the Passion and 
the Ascension.^^ The evidence for the liturgical background of the 
EN is thus suggestive yet, admittedly, circtmistantial; so is, with the 
exception of homiletic literature, the evidence for the EN's subsequent 
reciprocal influence, at least until the height of the Middle Ages. 

It is tempting, but perhaps too convenient, to relate all medieval 
liturgical evocations of Christ's Descent into Hell to the EN. It should 
be remembered that the Christian theme of catabasis, with its many 
legendary accretions, probably antedates the Latin text of the DI and 
certainly circulated apart and beyond the apocryphon.^*'' Thus, for 
instance, when a letter attributed to Germanus (d. 516) interprets por- 
tions of the mass as commemorating Christ's victory over the under- 
world and the release of the saints, its lirJcs to the EN are tenuous. The 
"Aius" before the reading of the gospel, the author of the letter ex- 
plains, is sung "in specie angelorum ante faciem Christi ad portas 
inferi clamantium: Tollite portas principes vestras . . ." ("in the image 
of angels before the countenance of Christ, exclaiming towards the 
gates of hell: Lift up your gates, princes . . .") and the "Sanctus" is 
intoned "in specie sanctorum, qui redeunte Domino Jesu Christo de 
inferis canticum laudis Dominum sequent[e]s cantaverunt" ("in the 
image of the saints, who, following Lord Jesus Christ on his return 
from hell, sang a song of praise").^** Despite the allusion to Ps. 23, 

^** Jean-Daniel Dubois, "La Representation de la Passion dans la liturgie du 
Vendredi Saint: Les Actes de Pilate et la liturgie eincienne de Jerusalem," in Liturgie 
et anthropobgie. Conferences St-Serge, XXVT semaine d'Hudes liturgiques, ed. A. M. 
Triacca and A. Pistoia (Rome: C. L. V.-Edizioni Liturgiche, 1990), 77-S9. 

^*^ KroU, Gott und Hoik, 24-28. 

'** Allen Cabaniss, "The Harrowing of Hell, Psalm 24, and Pliny the Younger: 
A Note," Vigiliae Christianae 7 (1953): 71; A. Cooper, "Ps 24:7-10: Mythology and 
Exegesis," Journal of Biblical Literature 102 (1983): 56; A. Rose, " 'Attolite portas, 
principes, vestras . . .' Aperqjs sur la lecture chr^tienne du Ps. 24 (23) B," in Mis- 
cellanea liturgica in onore di Sua Eminenza il cardinale Giacomo Lercaro, acivescovo di 
Bologna (Rome: Descl^, 1966), 1:453-78. 

^*^ Cf. Kroll, Gott und Hiille; MacCulloch, 77k Harrowing of Hell; J. Monnier, La 
Descente aux enfers, etude de pensee religieuse, d'art et de littirature (Paris: Fisch- 
bacher, 1904). 

'*« PL 72:91B-C. 


specific textual evidence for the influence of the EN is here lacking, 
and while it is not impossible that the author knew the EN, the letter 
does not compellingly demonstrate that knowledge. 

However, some liturgical practices which may have arisen inde- 
pendently of the EN appear to have developed an almost symbiotic 
relationship with it in the later Middle Ages. The entrance ceremony of 
the ritual for the dedication of the church, composed ca. 750,^'*^ may 
or may not have been indebted to the EN for its origin, but its subse- 
quent elaborations and vitality are likely due to the pseudo-gospel. 
That ceremony involved knocking on the church door, as if on the 
gates of hell, accompanied by the antiphonal recitation of Ps. 23; in its 
later medieval forms, the ritual included a triple procession around the 
church, with the psalm recited by the bishop outside and by the 
deacon inside every time the procession reached the door. The same 
ritual pattern evoking Christ's Descent into Hell, his victory over the 
devil, and the deliverance of the saints was adopted for other liturgies 
as well. In his Ecdesiale, Alexander of Villa Dei (b. ca. 1170, d. 1250) 
describes the Palm Sunday procession involving triple knocking on the 
church door and the antiphonal performance of Ps. 23.^^ More im- 
portant, the same ceremonial elements, with the addition of the anti- 
phon "Cum rex gloriae," formed the basis of some elaborate paschal 
celebrations, such as the Latin Easter play from Klostemeuburg or the 
dramatic Elevatio crucis from Barking and Bamberg.^^^ These late 
medieval paschal liturgies may owe, if not their origin, at least their 
enduring popularity to the suggestive, imaginative vision of the 
Descent in the EN. At the same time, these forms of communal, ecclesi- 
astically approved worship may have helped sanction and legitimize 
the text whose vision of the Descent they enacted. 

A similar, mutually beneficial relationship may have obtained 
between the EN and veneration of certain New Testament saints. 
Chapter 7 of the apocr5^hon may have spurred the cult of St. Veronica 
by giving a name — and therefore an identity — to the woman with the 
issue of blood (mentioned in Mt. 9:20-22; Mk. 5:25-29; and Lk. 8:43- 

'*' Michel Andrieu, Les "Ordines Romani" du haul moyen Age, vol. 4, Les Textes 
(suite) ("Ordines" XXXV-XLIX) (Louvain: "Specilegium Sacrum Lovaniense," 
1956), 339-49. 

^* Alexander of Villa Dei, Ecdesiale, ed. L. R. Lind (Lawrence: University of 
Kansas Press, 1958), w. 603-22. 

^^' Karl Young, The Drama of the Medieval Church (1933; repr., Oxford: Claren- 
don Press, 1967), 1:164-66, 172-75, 425; Karl W. Ch. Schmidt, Die Darstellung von 
Christi Hollenfahrt in den deutschen und der ihnen verwandten Spielen des Mittelalters 
(Marburg: H. Bauer, 1915), 24-25. 

Latin Middle Ages 95 

44).^^^ The naming of Longinus/^ the soldier who pierced Christ's 
side (EN 10.1; Jn.l9:34), and his conflation with the centurion who 
acknowledged Christ's divinity (Mt. 27:54; Mk. 15:39; Lk. 23:47) may 
have enhanced his veneration. The Good Thief, Dismas, may owe to 
the EN his place in medieval devotion^^ and, together with his evil 
counterpart, Gestas, in medieval superstition.^^ That the EN was one 
of the principal sources for Dismas the Confessor's legend is clear from 
its account in the Catalogus sanctorum, bk. 3, chapter 288, a popular fif- 
teenth-century collection of hagiographical lore compiled by Petrus de 
Natalibus, which briefly sunmiarizes chapter 26 of the EN on the meet- 
ing between the saints and the Good Thief in paradise.^^ Once the 
traditions of these characters' sainthood (or, in Gestas's case, wicked- 
ness) had grown strong, they probably began to promote the apocry- 
phon to which they were indebted. 

^= BHL 8549. 

'^ BHL 4965; on the name of Longinus, see Konrad Biirdach, Der Gral. 
Forschungen uber seinen Ursprung und seinen Zusammenhang mit der Longinuslegende 
(1938; repr., Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1974), 224-32. 

'" See the Oratio de sancto Disrm bom in London, BL MS. Addit. 34069, fbl. 
303 (saec. XV), from Hildesheim. The cult of St. Dismas flourished in Spain; see 
B. de Gaiffier, review of Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Kulturgeschichte Spaniens, vols. 9 
and 10 (Miinster in Westfalen: Aschendorff, 1954 and 1955), Analecta Bollandiana 
74 (1956): 274. 

*^ The names of the two thieves were used on amulets and in charms; tiie 
following verses were supposed to protect against theft 

Imparibus meritis pendent tria corpora ramis, 
Dismas & Gesmas, medio Divina potestas. 
Alta petit Dismas, infelix infima Gesmas, 
Nos & res nostras conservet summa Potestas, 
Hos versus dicas ne tu furto tua perd«is. 

(With unequal merits, three bodies hang suspended from branches: 
Dismas and Gesmas, cind the divine power in the middle. Dismas seeks 
the heights, unhappy Gesmas the depths, may the highest power 
preserve us and our property; say these verses lest you lose your 
property to theft.) 

Quoted cifter Johtmnes Albertus Fabridus, ed., Codici apocryphi Nam Testamenti, 
pars tertia nunc primum edita, 2d rev. ed. (Hamburg: C. Herold, 1743), 472; see also 
Walther, Carmina medii aevi, nos. 4582 and 8774, and Jiirgen Stohlman, "Nachtrage 
zu Hans Walther, Initio carminum ac versuum medii aevi (IV)," Mittellateinische Jahr- 
buch 12 (1977): 301, no. 4582. A version of these verses accompanies an English 
charm in Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS. Ashm. 1378, pp. 61-62 (saec. XV). Short verses 
on Dismas and Gestas occur also in Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS. Rawl. C. 485, fol. 124; 
Oxford, Balliol College MS. 288, fol. 278v; and London, BL MS. Arundel 346, fol. 
24v (saec. XV). 

'* Petrus de Natalibus, Catalogus sanctorum et gestorum eorum ex diuersis tx)Iu- 
minibus collectus (Lyons: J. Sacon, 1519), fol. 65rb. Petrus remembers the EN also 
in the legend of St. Adam, in which he reports Setfi's visit to paradise (bk. 3, 
chap. 2 [fol. 35rb]). 


The precise nature of the EN's influence, difficult to establish with 
respect to liturgical observances, is likewise elusive vis-^-vis celebra- 
tory paschal poetry. Although such poetry frequently exploits the 
theme of Christ's Descent, the poetic frame of reference, motifs, and 
idiom are usually biblical, patristic, and classical rather than apocry- 
phal. The allusions to the Harrowing of Hell are often too brief and too 
general to allow for identification of specific textual sources or models; 
such is the case not oiUy in the hymns of Prudentius, Sidonius Apolli- 
naris, Sedulius, and Venantius Fortunatus but in many later sequences 
as well.^^^ I am aware of orUy one short abecedarius (18 lines), the 
eighth-century anonymous "Versum de contentione Zabuli cum 
Avemo," which appears to have been inspired by the EN}^ The 
poem contains a verbal exchange between Infer and Satanas, strongly 
remiruscent of their altercation in chapter 20 of the EN}^ The con- 
tention begins with Satanas boasting that the powerful of the world 
have no power to escape Hell's dominion ("Potentes quos seculi / Ad 
te. Infer, iam adduxi, te non valent effugere"). But Infer reminds him 
that one mighty and strong in war ("potens et fortis in bello") released 
Lazarus from the irvfernal abode ("Abstractus de sede mea Lazarus, 
quem adduxisti"). Infer fears that warrior, but Satanas claims to know 
his name, Jesus ("Ego scio, quis est ille, lesus enim dicitur"), and 
declares his intention to bring Jesus into hell. Terrified, Infer forewarns 
Satanas that Jesus will overcome him and chain him in torments. 
Because of its brevity, the poem gives only a gist of the quarrel as 
developed in EN 20, but it includes at least one significant detail: a 
reference to the raising of Lazarus, which in both versions leads to the 
identification of Jesus' name and to Ir\fer's final warning to Satan. 

More typically, however, even longer poems devoted to Christ's 
paschal triumph in the underworld exhibit only superficial similarity 
to the EN. The "Triumphus Christi heroicus," printed with the works 

*^ Ruth Ellis Messenger, "The Descent Theme in Medieval Latin Hymns," 
Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 67 (1936): 126-47. 

^^ Edited by Paulus von Winterfeld, Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, vol. 4, pt. 1, 
MGH (Berlin: apud Weidmannos, 1904), 636-37; cf. Franz Brunholzl, Geschichte der 
lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, vol. 1, Von Cassiodor bis zum Ausklang der 
karolingischen Erneurung (Munich: W. Fink, 1975), 154. It survives in three ninth- 
century manuscripts now in Paris, BN MSS. lat. 1153 (the source of Winterfeld's 
edition); lat. 13377 (Dieter Schaller and Ewald Konsgen, Initia carminum Latinorum 
saeculo undecimo antiquiorum [Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977], no. 
1335); and lat. 17655 (Hans Walther, Das Streitgedicht in der lateinischen Literatur des 
Mittelalters, intro. cmd indexes by Paul Gerhard Schmidt [1920; repr., Hildesheim: 
Georg Ohns, 1984], 88). 

'^ The relevant passages of the EN are printed in the apparatus to Winter- 
feld's edition. 

Latin Middle Ages 97 

of Juvencus by the editor of the Patrologia Latina/^ contains an ac- 
count of the Descent with narrative contours cind speeches by Pliito, 
Adam, David, and Christ not unlike those of the EN. And yet few fea- 
tures of the poem can be imequivocally anchored in the apocryphon. 
If the poet took his inspiration from the DI, he chose to reproduce only 
its broad outlines, filling them with Christian and classical common- 
places. Two poems on the same subject by John Scotus Eriugena, 
"Emicat ex Erebo . . ." and "Postquam nostra salus . . . ," both main- 
tained in the classical and biblical idiom, are even further removed 
from the EN and almost devoid of its echoes.^^^ So are the "descen- 
sus" parts of the tenth-century vision of Ansellus Scholasticus.^^ All 
three poets seem to have worked within the general tradition of the 
Harrowing of Hell informed by the EN, but not with the apocryphal 
text itself. 

Even late medieval and renaissance poets, whose knowledge of the 
EN can be safely assumed, take a high degree of poetic licence in their 
treatments of the Harrowing and do not always follow the EN. While 
the "Sapphicon de inferorum vestatione et triumpho Christi" by 
Paulus Crosnensis Ruthenus,^^ first printed in 1513, like the 'Trium- 
phus" of pseudo-Juvencus, bears some broad resemblance to the EN, 
the connection between Erasmus's 1489 "Carmen heroicimi de solem- 
nitate paschali . . ."^" and the EN is more tenuous, even though Eras- 
mus was almost certainly familiar with the apocryphon, which he 
mentions in his colloquium 'Teregrinatio religionis ergo."^^ 

The fact that the EN is not the immediate or easily recognizable 
source of the above-mentioned poems does not diminish its signifi- 
cance as a text crucial for the medieval conception of catabasis. With- 
out it, the idea of the Descent might not have evolved into a coherent, 
dramatic legend of the Harrowing of Hell. However, the influence of 
the EN was often indirect, scattered, and diffused by intermediate 

'* PL 19:385-88. 

'*' Ludovicus Traube, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, vol. 3, MGH (Berlin: 
apud Weidmannos, 1896), 536, 543-44; Schaller and Konsgen, Initio carminum, nos. 
1977, 4387, and 12269. 

^" [£d^lestand Pontas] Du M^ril, ed.. Poesies populaires latines anterieures au 
douzihne sitcle (Paris: Brcxihaus et Avenarius, 1843), 200-17; Walther, Carmina 
medii aevi, no. 9091. 

'" Paulus Crosnensis Ruthenus, Pauli Crosnensis Rutheni Carmina, ed. Maria 
Cytowska (Warsaw: Partstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1%2), 172-79. 

'" Desiderius Erasmus, The Poems of Desiderius Erasmus, ed. C. Reedijk 
(Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1956), 190-201. 

'^ E)esiderius Erasmus, Opera omnia Desiderii Erasmi Roterdami, vol. 1, pt. 3, 
Colloquia, ed. L.-E. Halkin, F. Bierlaire, and R. Hoven (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 
1972), 470-94. 


sources, but also enhanced by parallel and consonant traditions trans- 
mitted in the writings of the fathers. Simultaneous diffusion and rein- 
forcement gave many thematic or narrative strands of the EN quasi- 
independent, cross-textual existence. 

One example of the diffusion of motifs associated with the EN 
through other texts is the literary career of the pseudb-Augustinian 
"Sermo 160," a composite piece that shares with EN 22-24 not only 
certain themes but phraseology as well. Before the eleventh century, a 
version of the "Sermo," amplified with passages from the sermons of 
Eusebius "Gallicanus" on the Pasch,^^ was apparently more influen- 
tial than the EN itself. It resonates in several early liturgical hynms in 
verse and prose. A late seventh- or eighth-century abecedarius from 
Italy or Gaul, "Audite omnes canticum mirabile . . . ,"^^^ includes two 
speeches derived from it. One of them (stanzas 3-9), by "tortores mali" 
("evil torturers"), is modeled on the Eusebian fragments incorporated 
into the "Sermo"; the other, by "turbae beatae" ("blessed throngs"), is 
reminiscent, even at the lexical level, of the saints' speech in the fourth 
paragraph of pseudo-Augustine's sermon.^^ Similar utterances of 
infernal lament and saintly plea, all with echoes of the "Sermo," occur 
also in three tenth- to twelfth-century sequences from Limoges, "O 
beata et venerabilis virgo Maria alma . . . ," "Cantat omnis turba . . . ," 

and "Clara gaudia, festa paschalia "^^' Furthermore, the "Sermo" 

was quoted extensively by the author of the highly dramatic liturgy 
from the runth-century Book of Ceme, in which the saints plead for 
deliverance in the words of pseudo-Augustine.^''" Widely disseminat- 
ed in the latter half of the first millermium, the "Sermo" remained in 
active liturgical use well into the twelfth century, when it was adapted 
as lections for Easter Matins at the monastery at Priifening.^''^ 

^^ Eusebius "Gallicanus," Collectio homiliarum, 1:141-50, 2:87S-79. 

'*'' Edited by Karolus Strecker, Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, vol. 4, pt. 2, MGH 
(Berlin: apud Weidmannos, 1923), 565-69; cf. Schaller and Konsgen, Initia carmi- 
num, no. 1352. 

^^ PL 39:2061. 

'^^ Edited by Guide Maria I>reves, Prosarium Lemovicense. Die Prosen der Abtei 
St. Martial zu Limoges aus Troparien des 10., 11. und 12. Jahrhunderts (Leipzig: Fues's 
Verlag [R. Reisland], 1899), 65-66, 59, and 66-67, respectively. For the last one, see 
also Schaller and Konsgen, Initia carminum, no. 2337. 

^^ Dumville, "Liturgical Drama," 374-^06. 

^^ Karl Young, "The Harrowing of Hell in Liturgical Drama," Transactions of 
the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters 16, no. 2 (1909): 934-46. Outside 
liturgy, the "Sermo" was used extensively by Jacobus a Voragine in the Legenda 
aurea, chap. 54 (p. 242); it was known to Thomas Aquinas, who cites it, in the con- 
text of the discussion of Christ's Descent into Hell, in his Summa theologiae 3a, q. 
52, ad 5 (vol. 54, ed. Richard T. A. Murphy [New York: Blackfriars in conjunction 
with McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1965], 166). The Eusebian fragment was placed at the 
head of the EN in several manuscripts of the EN, discussed above. 

Latin Middle Ages 99 

The EN's connection with homiletic literature was perhaps stron- 
ger than with any other form of public worship, and consequently it is 
easier to document. Medieval preachers approached the apocryphal 
text in a variety of ways: they adapted it in its entirety to specific 
homiletic purposes, or transformed only portions of it — usually the 
story of Joseph and the Harrowing of Hell — into homilies, or quarried 
it for colorful, dramatic details. One of the earliest examples of homi- 
letic adaptation of the entire EN is preserved, together with a Carolin- 
gian homiliary, in Grenoble, Bibl. mim. MS. 470, fols. 18r-26v (saec. 
Xn). In this manuscript, the EN is introduced with a sunnmary of the 
Creation and the Fall of humarUcind and ends with an account of the 
Last Judgement. As in the Palestra, the prologue sets the stage for the 
central events of the Redemption related in the EN, and the epilogue 
adds their ultimate completion at the end of time. Thus framed, the 
homily presents the scheme of sacred history as it has ui\folded and as 
it will unfold itself in time. 

Some homilists adapted only portions of the EN, especially those 
narrating the episodes not described in detail in the canonical gospels. 
A late medieval German preacher, Franciscus Woitsdorf (d. 1463), 
inserts the story of Joseph of Arimathea {EN 12-17) among his Sermo- 
nes de tempore, preserved in at least three manuscripts.^^ When not 
incorporated verbatim, the same section of the EN served as a source 
or model for more independent homiletic accounts of the imprison- 
ment and miraculous deliverance of Joseph, while its apocryphal con- 
tinuation {EN 17-27) inspired sermons on the Harrowing of Hell.^'^ 

Predictably, the EN is often embedded in the midst of manuscript 
collections of sermons. Versions of the B type invited their placement 
and use as a homily through the opening apostrophe to a listening 
audience, "Audistis, fratres karissimi . . ." ("You have heard, most 
beloved brothers . . ."). In one of the oldest copies of that sort, Padova, 
Biblioteca Antoniana 473 Scaff. XXI, fols. 138v^7v (saec. XI-XH), the 
EN, entitled sigruficantly Sermo de passione, is inserted, together with 
the apocryphal Visio Pauli, among miscellaneous sermons. Another 
copy of EN B, in a twelfth-century, possibly Spanish manuscript, 
London, BL MS. Addit. 29630, begins a series of sermons, and the 
word "sermones," written between the columns at the head of the text. 

"^ Kremsmiinster, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 311 (saec. XV); and Wrcxiaw, Biblio- 
teka Uniwersytecka MSS. I F 215 (saec. XV), and I F 725 (saec. XV/2). 

*^ On Joseph, see for instance Honorius Augustodunensis, "De paschali die," 
in his Speculum ecclesiae (PL 172:932D-33A); on the Harrowing, see Bruno Seg- 
niensis, "In die resurrectionis," in Maxima bibliotheca veterum patrum, vol. 6 (Lyon: 
Apud Anissonios, 1677), 754, and the hoimly in Cambridge, St. John's College 
MS. C. 12, fol. 141va. 


is its only title. But texts of type A also occur in the company of 
sermons, perhaps even more frequently: they are encountered, for 
instance, in such homiletic manuscripts as Kremsmiinster, Stiftsbiblio- 
thek MSS. 3 (saec. XV/1) and 170 (saec. XV in.); London, BL MS. Addit. 
17003 (saec. XV); and Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS. Bodl. 406 (saec. XIH). 

3.4. Conclusion 

The EN reached the peak of its popularity as the Middle Ages were 
begiiming to wane and new religious attitudes to assert themselves. 
Even as some scribes were willing to treat it with the respect usually 
accorded the greatest patristic authorities and to place it in the com- 
pany of the canonical texts, others began to speak out against it. The 
main source of its enduring appeal — the imaginative, mythologized 
narrative of the Harrowing of Hell — ^became the target of impassioned 
criticism and ridiculing attacks.^^* Few critics went as far as Reginald 
Pecock (b. 1395, d. 1460), who denied the apostolic sanction for the 
belief in Christ's Descent.^^ Most, like the anonymous author of the 
English treatise Speculum devotorum, accepted the Descent as an article 
of faith but rejected what the EN suggests about the nature of the 
event because "hyt ys not autentyke & also for the forseyde doctur 
Lyre prouyth hyt euydently false be autoryte of holy wryt & seyingys 
of othyre doctorys"; the author will not put "sueche thynge here J)at ys 
so vnsykyr & mygthte be cause of erroure to sjmipyl creaturys."^^^ 

As theological redefinitions of Christ's Descent into Hell became 
more entrenched with the work of Pico della Mirandola, Nicholas of 
Cusa, and others, the EN lost most of its ground and support. In the 
disputes concerrung the nature of the Descent raging throughout the 
sixteenth century in Europe, the EN often bore the brimt of scorn and 
contempt. In his harangue against Richard Snuth, an Oxford theo- 
logicin, Christopher Carlile mocks the legendary account of the Har- 
rowing of Hell which the former allegedly affirmed, and the EN with 
it. He derides his opponent: 

'^^ Dewey D. Wallace, Jr., "Puritan and Anglican: The Interpretation of 
Christ's Descent into Hell in Elizabethan Theology," Archiv fur Reformations- 
geschichte 69 (1978): 248-87. 

^"^ H. T. Riley, ed., Registra quorundam abbatum S. Albani, qui saeculo XV^ 
fluorere, vol. 1, Registrum abbatiae Johannis Whethamstede, Rer. Brit. M. A. Script., 
vol. 28, pt. 6 (London: Longman, 1872), 281, 285. 

'''* James Hogg, ed.. The Speculum devotorum of an Anonymous Carthusian of 
Sheen, Analecta Cartusiema, vol. 13 (Salzburg: Institut fiir englische Sprache und 
Literatur, Universitat Salzburg, 1974), 312. 

Latin Middle Ages 101 

The false Gospell ascribed to Nicodemus, testifieth as many , 
absurdityes as you do. How that Orcus and Pluto reason, how 
they myght kepe CHRIST out of their kingdome, they be 
suche Prodigious fables as are in the dreames of Brigitta, and 
in many of y^ schole men. Which are tedious to repeat, folishe 
to be committed to wryting, ridiculous to the wise, impossible 
to be credited, hurtfull to the symple, and engenderinge a 
thowsande absurdityes.^'^ 

By 1582, when Carlile's mockery of Snuth and the EN was published, 
the apocryphon, together with other legendary accretions, had already 
been abjured by the Roman Catholic Church, striving to rid herself of 
fancy and superstition through the actions of the Council of Trent. 
Outside and inside pressures for reform ultimately resulted in the 
placement of the EN on the Index. It was officially condemned by the 
Louvain Index of 1558 as part of the Orthodoxographa theologiae sacro- 
sanctae ac syncerioris fidei Doctores numero LXXVl ... , originally edited 
by Johann Basilius Herold in 1555 and re-edited by Johann Jakob 
Grynaeus in 1569.^^ In the Trent Index of 1564 and the Li^e Index 
of 1569, the EN is singled out by its own title.^^ The EN never recov- 
ered from these attacks on its reputation and never regained its former 
popularity and prestige. 

"^ Christopher Carlile, A Discourse, Concerning hvo diuine Positions, The first 
effectually concluding, that the souks of the faithfull fathers, deceased before Christ, went 
immediately to heaven. The Second sufficientlye setting forth vnto vs Christians, what 
we are to conceiue, touching the descension of our Sauiour Christ into hell: Publiquely 
disputed at a Commencement in Cambridge, Anno Domini 1552. Purposefuly written at 
the first by way of confutation, against a Booke of Richard Smith of Oxford, D. of 
Diuinity . . . (London: Roger Ward, 1582), fols. 52v-53r. 

'^ Cf. J. M. de Bujanda, ed.. Index de I'Universiti de Louvain 1546, 1550, 1558, 
(Sherbrooke, Quebec: Centre d'^tudes de la renaissance, 1986), 339-40. 

^^ Frcinz Heinrich Reusch, ed.. Die Indices librorum prohibitorum des sechzehnten 
Jahrhunderts (1886; repr., Nieuwkoop: B. de Graaf, 1961), 272, 287. 

The Gospel of Nicodetnus in 

the Vernacular Literature 

of Medieval France 


O vere digna hostia 

per quern fracta sunt tartara^ 

Old and Middle French literature experienced widespread in- 
fluence from the apocryphal Evangelium Nicodemi {EN)} This 
indebtedness, broadly speaking, took two forms: direct transla- 
tion or adaptation of the Latin text, and appropriation of individual 
themes, motifs, or dramatic situations from ti\e apocryphon. 

1. Translations and adaptations 

1.1. Three early verse translations 

Identification of the precise recensions of the Latin work that found 
their way to northern France in this period to provide models for ver- 
nacular translations will doubtless have to await the results of the 
investigation now under way of the extensive Latin manuscript tradi- 
tion.^ What is certain, however, is that by the end of the twelfth century 

^ "Ad coentun agni providi . . . ," in Hymnarius Moissiacemis, ed. Guido Maria 
Dreves, Ariedecta hymnica medii aevi, vol. 2 (1888; repr.. New York: Johnson 
Reprint Corp., 1%1), 46. 

^ Unless otherwise noted, aU references to the Latin text will he to H. C. Kim, 
ed.. The Gospel of Nicodemus: Gesta Salvatoris, Toronto Medieval Latin Texts, vol. 2 
(Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1973). The text will be cited by 
chapter and paragraph numbers. 

^ Zbigniew Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," Manuscripta 
33 (1989): 169-91. 


the matter was of great interest to popular writers and that versions of 
the apocryphon, complete with the Descensus Christi ad inferos and 
Pilate's letter to Tiberius (Claudius), began to appear in the vernacular. 

First among these versions in French seems to have been a partial 
adaptation in octosyllabic rhymed couplets composed at Mont-Saint- 
Michel by a Norman poet, Andre de Coutances.* Proclaiming that all 
good Christians know of Christ's Passion and death from Holy Scrip- 
ture, Andre skips the account of the trial before Pilate, begins with the 
events following the Crucifixion (£N 11), continues through the ac- 
count of the Harrowing of Hell by Carinus and Leucius (vv. 815-1932), 
and concludes with the letter to Claudius that summarizes the events 
of the life of Christ (w. 1933-2028). In the prologue, the poet confesses 
to having liked song and dance in his youth, but now, being of mature 
age, he wishes to turn his attention to more edifying matters (vv. 1-6). 
He must have had some education, doubtless in the schools of Paris, 
and he counts among his close friends, and perhaps family, the lady of 
Tribehou, to whom he addresses his poem. This family, prominent in 
the Cotentin in lower Normandy (departement de la Manche) at the 
turn of the century, suggests perhaps that Andre was also of noble 

Also from the first half of the thirteenth century comes the second 
metrical Old French version of the £N,^ that of a certain Chretien, 
about whom practically nothing is known (he is certainly not to be 
identified with the famous champenois poet Chretien de Troyes). His 
version of the apocryphon, a "work of simple, unpretentious piety,"^ 
embraces the entire Latin text, though not without some compression 
(he devotes 840 verses to the Descensus Christi ad inferos, as against 
Andre de Coutances's 1214). It opens with a dedication to the Trinity 
and a prologue closely related in contents to that found in the codex 
Einsidlensis edited by Kim; it closes with the letter to Claudius and an 
epilogue in which Chretien gives his name and states that he has trans- 
lated the work, "De latin en romanz turnee" (v. 2186). Based on a 

* This text, along with the two other metrical versions, has been published by 
Gaston Paris and Alphonse Bos, eds., Trois Versions rimees de I'tvangile de Nico- 
dtme par Chretien, Andre de Coutances et un anonyme, Sod^t^ des anciens textes 
frangais, vol. 22 (Paris: F. Didot, 1885), 73-136, from London, British Library (BL) 
MS. Addit. 10289. Paris (ibid., xxv) dates the poem to the very early thirteenth 
century, around the period of the annexation of Normandy by Philip Augustus 
in 1204. On Andre's version, see Walter Becker, "Die Sage von der HoUenfahrt 
Christi in der altfranzosischen Literatur," Romanische Forschungen 32 (1913): 903- 
12, and D. D. R. Owen, The Vision of Hell: Infernal Journeys in Medieval French Liter- 
ature (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1970), 99-101. 

^ Text in Paris and Bos, Trois Versions, 1-69. 

* Owen, The Vision of Hell, 101. 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 105 

study of rhyme and meter, the editors localize the poet's region of 
origin to the east of Paris, perhaps in Champagne, although the manu- 
script they used (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana MS. Conventi sup- 
pressi 99) was copied in a marked Anglo-Norman hand. A second 
copy of Chretien's poem was brought to light by Meyer — Cambridge, 
Fitzwilliam Museum MS. 123, a manuscript formerly the property of 
M. McLean. Meyer rejected Paris and Bos's localization of the author's 
dialect in eastern France: "Je ne vois pas de raison pour que le po^me 
n'ait pas une origine anglaise ou normande" ("I see no reason why the 
poem should not be of English or Norman origin").^ 

A third verse translation of the EN, by an otherwise urJoiown 
Anglo-Norman writer, has been preserved in a single fourteenth-cen- 
tury manuscript, London, Lambeth Palace MS. 522.® This anonymous 
work dates in all probability from the second half of the thirteenth cen- 
tury, but the late manuscript that preserves the text shows considerable 
corruption: "il fourmille de fautes incroyables, qui attestent chez le 
copiste une ignorance presque complete du frangais et une rare insou- 
ciance du sens de ce qu'il ^crivait" ("it is full of unbelievable faults 
which show that the scribe knew virtually no French and cared even 
less about the mearung of what he was writing").' It opens with the 
same prologue and dedication to the Trir\ity as in Chretien's version, 
and, like the latter, the text contains all three parts of the apocryphon. 
The poet also concludes with Pilate's letter sununarizing the events of 
the life of Christ, this time addressed to Tiberius: "A Cesar Tyberye ad 
conte Par lettre . . ." (w. 2066 ff.). But unlike his predecessors, the 
anonymous writer provides no epilogue, no revelations or personal 
touches about himself or his condition. He effaces himself completely 
from the text and, when mentioning his source, says merely: "Devums 
parler hardiement / De ceo ke nos veums escrit / De nostre sire Jhesu 
Crist" (w. 4-6; "We must speak boldly about what we see written con- 
cerning our Lord Jesus Christ"). 

These three metrical versions of the tvangile de Nicodhne are all 
associated in one way or another either with Normandy or with 
Anglo-Norman England. This suggests that the apocryphon was 
unusually popular in these regions, especially in the thirteenth centu- 
Ty}° Its vogue in the Norman sphere of influence is sometimes 

^ Paxil Meyer, "Note sur un nouveau manuscrit de la traduction en vers de 
rfivangile de Nicod^me par Chretien," Bulletin de la Societi des anciens textesfran- 
gais 24 (1898): 83. 

* Paris and Bos, Trois Versions, 139-212. 

' Ibid., xlviii. 

'° Two other copies of Chretien's text, now lost, were apparently in existence 
in the Middle Ages, housed in Assumption Abbey in Leicester; see Madeleine 


explained as a result of the serious and pious nature of much of Anglo- 
French verse during the period;^^ an alternative explanation, as I sug- 
gest below, may connect it with the growing popularity in England of 
the cult of St. Joseph of Arimathea. 

The three verse translations lay little claim to literary merit, aiming 
rather at commurucating to the faithful the truths relating to Christ's 
Passion, death, and Descent into Hell. This is especially true of the 
anonymous version, whose somewhat doggerel verse strove to reflect 
the Latin text (the so-called EN A) but managed from time to time to 
slip into a confused written expression. The version of Andre de Cou- 
tances is much more accomplished; also basing his text on the Latin 
version A, Andre handles the vernacular with skill, deviating from the 
original on occasion to impart a personal touch and to craft dialogue 
to relieve the monotony of third-person narrative. In comparison with 
Andre's poem, that of Chretien is pedestrian, exhibiting few of the 
versifying techniques of the Norman poet: "It is a work of simple, un- 
pretentious piety, such as we have come to associate with the Anglo- 
Normans rather than the continental writers."^^ 

1.2. Prose versions 

It was, however, with the rise of prose as a vehicle for serious litera- 
ture in the early thirteenth century that versions of the ^vangile de Nico- 
dhne experienced their most widespread diffusion, as attested by their 
rich and complex manuscript traditions, both in the north of France 
and in Occitarua. In Old and Middle French alone, more than sixty 
manuscripts preserve, in whole or in part, the text of one version or 
another, and the pseudo-gospel's popularity extended into fifteenth- 
and even sixteenth-century printed editions.^^ I can do little more 
than summarize here this immense body of writing, especially since 

Blaess, "Les Manuscrits frangais dans les monasteres cinglais au moyen 3ge," 
Romania 94 (1973): 356-57, nos. 98 and 931 of the catalogue. 

" Owen, The Vision of Hell, 75-77. 

" Ibid., 101. 

" Two incunabula of the Middle French tvangile are known: Passion N.-S.- 
Jisus-Christ, printed in Paris by J. Trepperel in 1497 (see Richard Paul Wulcker, 
Das Evangelium Nicodemi in der abendlandischen Literatur. Nebst drei excursen . . . 
[Paderbom: F. Schoningh, 1872], 28), and a Vie de Jesu Crist printed in Brittany by 
Robin Foucquet in 1485 (see fimile Roy, Le Mystdre de la passion en France du XIV' 
au XVr siMe, Revue Bourguignonne, vols. 13-14 [1903-4; repr., Geneva: Slatkine, 
1974], 325-27), both of which derive from a text of the long version attributed to 
Gamaliel, the Passion selon Gamaliel. A sixteenth-century edition, printed in Lyon 
by Jehan de Chandeney in 1510, is most likely from ttie Trepperel imprint, but 
this point remains to be verified. 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 107 

the nature of these vernacular prose texts, relying to different degrees 
on particular Latin models, is extremely varied, and because we do riot 
yet possess reliable editions. Further, the underlying tradition of the 
Latin manuscripts has not yet been established firmly enough to per- 
mit one to assign an individual vernacular prose rendition to a specific 
Latin recension. 

The material quality of the various manuscripts that transmit the 
prose tvangile varies from the most wretched copies scribbled hastily 
on paper (e.g., Paris, Bibliotheque nationale [BN] MS. fr. 24438) to 
sumptuous vellum manuscripts containing large collections of saints' 
lives and other works copied with the greatest care and luxuriously 
illuminated (Paris, BN MSS. fr. 6260, 24209, etc.). Although some 
French copies of the apocryphon are found isolated with a few other 
texts in an individual manuscript (e.g., Paris, Bibliotheque de 1' Arsenal 
MS. 5366), in most cases the tvangile figures as one element in larger 
compilations of pious material, sacred history, or hagiographical leg- 
ends (Paris, BN MSS. fr. 187, 409, 1850, etc.), as well as in collections of 
a secular nature (Paris, BN MS. fr. 15219). Often it forms, with other 
pieces, a sort of prologue to a French "legendier" (Paris, BN MSS. fr. 
411, 6447, 17229, etc.),^^ and it is frequently found introducing a 
French version of the apocryphal Vindicta Salvatoris (Paris, BN MSS. fr. 
12445, 17229, Chantilly, Musee Conde MS. 38, etc.).^^ It is even substi- 
tuted at times for Jean Belet's trai\slation of the passion from Jacobus 
a Voragine's Legenda aurea (Paris, BN MSS. fr. 183, 184, 413; Brussels, 
Bibliotheque royale MS. 9225; London, BL MS. Addit. 17275, etc.).^^ 

In its broadest outline, the manuscript tradition of the prose tvan- 
gile preserves two main forms of the text the short version and the 
long one. 

1.2.1. Short version (Latin EN A) 

This version of the tvangile de Nicodeme has been published by Alvin 
E. Ford according to what he considered to be two distinct traditions. 

" Essentially Meyer's groups C' and D ("L^endes hagiographiques en 
fran^ais," in Histoire litteraire de la France, vol. 33, ed. Paul Meyer [Paris: Impri- 
merie nationale, 1906], 414-20), which combine the following works into an intro- 
duction to the "legendier" proper: (1) La Nativite de Jesus; (2) L' Apparition (Adora- 
tion of the Magi); (3) la Purification de noti'e Dame; (4) La Passion du Christ et 
descente aux enfers; (5) La Conversion de Saint Paul; and (6) La Chaire de Saint Pierre. 

" One redaction of the prose Vengeance, Paris, BN MS. fr. 187, actually in- 
corporates elements of Robert de Boron's prose Joseph d'Arimathie relating to 
Joseph; see Alexandre Micha, "Une Redaction de la Vengeance de Notre Seigneur," 
in Melanges offerts a Rita Lejeune (Gembloux: J. Duculot, 1%9), 2:1291-98. 

'^ See Meyer, "L6gendes," 426-27. 


A and B.^^ This edition leaves something to be desired.^® For tradi- 
tion A, Ford bases his text on Paris, BN MS. fr. 19525, and for tradition 
B, on Paris, BN MS. fr. 6447, but he fails to provide a justification for 
the filiation of the manuscripts of each tradition. Also, the variant read- 
ings are in such a tangle that it is difficult for readers to sort out the 
various recensions. The editor does set forth the main differences 
between the two traditions:^^ in addition to minor variation in expres- 
sion, tradition B has compressed the text slightly in comparison with 
A, causing the omission of several short passages. Moreover, B lacks 
the entire prologue of A, which dates the work "al quinzime an que 
Tyberie Cesar aveit este enpereor de Rome" ("in the fifteenth year 
when Tiberius Caesar was emperor in Rome") and attributes the com- 
position to Nicodemus, who wrote it "en ebreu et en latin" ("in 
Hebrew and in Latin").^° Although there is a slight discrepancy in the 
dating of the Passion, this prologue resembles the one in the codex 
Einsidlensis but does not include the dedication to the Triruty or the ref- 
erence to the discovery of the document by emperor Theodosius in 

Tradition A. The identification of Ford's tradition A is not without 
problems. First, to his list of seven manuscripts we must add: 

Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales MS. 5028c 

London, BL MS. Egerton 613 

Metz, Bibliotheque municipale (Bibl. mun.) MS. 262.^ 

'^ Alvln E. Ford, L'tvangile de Nicodbne: Les Versions courtes en ancien frangais 
et en prose, Publications romanes et frangaises, vol. 125 (Geneva: Droz, 1973), 41- 
81 and 83-106, respectively. 

'^ See the reviews by C. R. Sneddon in French Studies 31 (1977): 441-42, and 
Richard O'Gorman in Cahiers de civilisation medievale 19 (1976): 59-61. 

^' Ford, L'tvangile de Nicodhne, 28-30. 

2° Ibid., 41. 

^' Kim, The Gospel of Nicodemus, 13; Constantinus de Tischendorf, ed., Evan- 
gelia apocrypha, 2d rev. ed. (Leipzig: H. Mendelssohn, 1876), 314-15. 

^ Michel Zink, La Predication en langue romane avant 1300, Nouvelle bibUo- 
th^que du moyen age, vol. 4 (Paris: Champion), 64. And perhaps also Paris, BN 
MS. fr. 6260, which Ford terms a "version h^t^roclite" (Ford, L'tvangile de Nico- 
dhne, 27) but which opens with the prologue and the beginning of the text 
according to tradition A. Jean Bonnard, Les Traductions de la Bible en vers frangais 
au moyen Age (1884; repr., Geneva: Slatkine, 1967), 92-104, associates this manu- 
script, together with Paris, BN MS. fr. 9562, with the anonymous translation in 
verse of the Old Testament. The Metz copy is acephalous, beginning: "... en 
Jherusalem. Je vi donques Jhesum seoir sur asinum . . ." (Ford, L'Evangile de 
Nicodhne, p. 42, 1. 32, tradition A). I am indebted to Mme Genevieve Bnmel- 
Lobrichon of the Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes in Paris for a notice 
of this manuscript. A version belonging to tradition A was printed by Bengt 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 109 

Second, as Shields points out,^ two manuscripts from Ford's list of 
tradition A, Paris, BN MS. fr. 1850 (siglum £), and Oxford, Queen's 
College MS. 305 (siglum F), represent in fact either a variant recension 
within this version or else a completely different version, and they 
should doubtless have been edited separately (to the two can be added 
Dijon, Bibl. mun. MS. 525).^^ 

The same distinct recer\sion formed the basis for interpolations into 
two Old French prose romances. The post-Vulgate sequel to the Roman 
de Merlin, edited as the Livre d'Artus,^ contains a text that derives 
directly from it. The Livre is extant in a single manuscript, Paris, BN 
MS. fr. 337. The tvangile begins: 

II auint fait li preudom u nonantiesme an de la segnorie 
Tiberij Cersar lempereor de Rome & u nonantiesme an de la 
segnorie Herode le fil Herode roi de Galilee ^^ 

(It happened, the worthy man said, in the nineteenth year^ 

Lindstrom, ed., A Late Middle English Version of the Gospel ofNicodemus Edited from 
British Museum MS Harley 149, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Studia Anglistica 
Upsaliensia, vol. 18 (Uppsala: Almqvist and Wiksell, 1974), 44-126, text B, from 
London, BL MS. Egerton 2710. 

" Hugh Shields, "Bishop Turpin and the Source of Nycodemus gospell," Eng- 
lish Studies 53 (1972): 499; idem, "L^gendes religieuses en anden fran^ais (MS. 951 
de la Biblioth^ue de Trinity College k Dublin)," Scriptorium 34 (1980): 66. 

^* Incipit (from E): "II avint el nonantiesme an de la seignorie Tyberii Cesar, 
I'enpereor de Rome, el nonantiesme an de la seignorie Herode . . . "; explicit: "E 
ensi i a par tot .v. mile et .v. cenz anz"; see Meyer, "L^gendes," 393. Lindstrom, 
A Late Middle English Version, 44-129, printed this recension from Paris, BN MS. 
fr. 1850 (his text C). Note the frequency, in Ford's variants to tradition A, with 
which his MSS. £ and f agree against his base manuscript. Izydorczyk, "The 
Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," 183, identifies a late Latin recension of the EN, 
a fusion of his types A and C, which "strangely" dates the Passion to "anno 
nonagesimo" of Tiberius. This could well be the origin of the vciriant version of 
Ford's tradition A; see also Zbigniew Izydorczyk, "The Latin Source of an Old 
French Gospel of Nicodemus," Revue d'histoire des textes 25 (1995): 265-79. Finally, 
Shields, "L^gendes religieuses," 66, concludes that another manuscript from 
Ford's tradition A, DubUn, Trinity College MS. 951, represents in fact the debris 
of a text "dont I'ind^endence n'admet . . . aucvm doute." 

^^ H. Oskar Sommer, ed.. The Vulgate Version of the Arthurian Romances, vol. 
7 (Washington: Carnegie Institution, 1916). 

'^ Ibid., p. 247, 1. 27. A translation into Middle Dutch verse of Le Livre d'Artus, 
presumably with the interpolated tvangile de Nicodhne, was joined in 1326 by 
Lodewijk van Velthem to Jacob van Maerlanf s verse adaptation of Robert de 
Boron's prose Joseph and Merlin; see Roger Sherman Loomis, Arthurian Literature 
in the Middle Ages: A Collaborative History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), 445, 
and Richard O'Gorman, "La Tradition manuscrite du Joseph d'Arimathie en prose 
de Robert de Boron," Revue d'histoire des textes 1 (1971): 145-46. 

^^ Kim, The Gospel of Nicodemus, 13: "in anno xviii imperatoris Tyberii 


of the lordship of Tiberius Caesar, emperor of Rome, and in 
the nineteenth year of the lordship of Herod, son of Herod 
king of Galilee — ) 

In the Roman de Perceforest, the author put the story of Joseph of Ari- 
mathea into the mouth of Alain le Gros.^^ While he amputated con- 
siderably the Descensus portion of this recension (everything after the 
dialogue between Satan and Hades),^' the author seems to have fol- 
lowed closely the first part of the apocryphon.^ The excerpt in the 
Roman opens: 

II advint au dix neufiesme an de lempire Tibere Cesar de 
Romme et de Herode roy de Galilee, cor\sul Rufibellionis, pro- 
cureur en Judee, Ponce Pilate f ut le prince, provoyres des Juif s 
Joseph et Cayphas, Some et Sathain, Cormalie et Judas, Nevie 
et Nephtalim, Alexandre et Sirus et moult dautres des Juifs 
vindrent a Pylate alencontre Jesus, en laccusant en maintes 
manieres en disant ^^ 

(It happened in the nineteenth year of the reign of the emper- 
or Tiberius Caesar of Rome and of Herod king of Galilee, in 
the consulate of Rufibellion, chief procurator in Judea being 
Pontius Pilate, high priests of the Jews Joseph and Cayphas, 
Some and Sathain, Cormalie and Judas, Nevie and Nephtalim, 
Alexandre and Sirus and many others of the Jews came to 
Pilate against Jesus accusing him of many things saying — ) 

A future editor of this variant recension of the short version will 
doubtless have to take into consideration these two interpolated texts, 
along with the three extant manuscripts mentioned above. 

Tradition B. The list of sixteen manuscripts of Ford's tradition B^^ 
can be lengthened considerably by addition of the following: 

Paris, BN MS. fr. 413 

Paris, BN MS. fr. 17229 

Paris, Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve MS. 1302 

Tours, Bibl. mun. MS. 1015 (acephalous) 

^® Jeanne Lods, Le Roman de Perceforest, Soci^t^ de publications romanes et 
frangaises, vol. 32 (Geneva: Droz, 1951), 33-34. 

2' Becker, "Die Sage," 924. 

^ This voluminous romance is being edited by Jane H. M. Taylor and GiUes 
Roussineau for the Textes litt^raires fran^ais series, but the section containing the 
txMtigile de Nicodtme has not yet appeared. 

'^ Wiilcker, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 28. 

'^ Ford, L'tvangile de Nicodtme, 83-106. 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 111 

Turin, Biblioteca Nazionale MS. L. I. 5 

Brussels, Bibliotheque royale Albert ler MS. 2306 (olim 9030-37) 

Doubtless we can add as well Geneva, Bibliotheque publique et uni- 
versitaire, MS. Comites Latentes 102, formeriy Cheltenham, Phillipps 
MS. 3660,^ sold at Sotheby's on 21 November 1972. This is the ver- 
sion of the tvangile often admitted into the Belet trai\slation of Jacobus 
a Voragine's Legenda aurea (see Paris, BN MSS. fr. 183, 185, 413, etc.). 

1.2.2. Long version (Latin EN B; sometimes entitled 
Le Livre . . . , Passion . . ., or Evangile selon Gamaliel) 

Ford gives no information about this prose version except to list sum- 
marily nine manuscripts under the heading "Versions Longues" (27). 
He defers an edition of this text to a later date. To his nine manu- 
scripts we can now add the following: 

Bern, Biirgerbibliothek MS. A 260 
Besan^on, Bibl. mun. MS. 588 
Paris, Bibliotheque de I'Arsenal MS. 5366 
Toulouse, Bibl. mun. MS. 888 

Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana MS. Reg. lat. 1728 
(short fragment from the beginning) 

According to the Vatican manuscript, this version begins: 

En celuy temps que Jhesucrist print mort et passion en la cite 
de Jherusalem soubz Ponce Pilate qui estoit seneschal de 
Jherusalem pour Julius Cesar, empereur de Romme, et avoit 
son lieu en Jherusalem et en Cesarie (Pol. 148r) 

(At that time when Jesus Christ suffered death and torment in 
the city of Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate, who was procurator 
[seneschal] for Julius Caesar, emperor of Rome, and he gov- 
erned in Jerusalem and in Caesarea ) 

An edition of this long version was prepared by Madeleine Le Merrer 
as a "memoire de maitrise" at the Universite de Caen; Mme Le Merrer 
writes that "la these . . . a ete transformee en 'these d'etat' . . . Soute- 
nance prevue: 1991" ("the thesis . . . has been transformed into a 'state 
doctoral thesis' Anticipated date of thesis defence: 1991").^ 

^ Meyer, "L^gendes," 421. 

^ Madeleine Le Merrer, ed., "fidition de la version en prose de I'fivangile de 
Nicod^me d'apres cinq manuscrits du XTV* et XV* si^cles" (Memoire de maitrise, 
Universite de Caen, 1968). The Livre de Gamaliel and its Ocdttin source are dis- 
cussed below by Josep Izquierdo, pp. 159-63. 


1.3. Other adaptations 

In addition to the short and long versions. Ford lists also "Trois Para- 
phrases": Paris, BN MS. fr. 15219, and London, BL MSS. Royal 20 B. V 
and Egerton 2781.^ The tvangile de Nicodhne contained in the first of 
these has nothing in common with the two London manuscripts but is 
in fact a summary of the events related in the EN as foimd in Vincent 
of Beauvais's Speculum historiale. It begins with the deposition from the 
cross and includes a much compressed account of the Harrowing of 
Hell narrated by Carinus and Leucius.^ The other two manuscripts, 
supplemented by Cambridge, University Library MS. Dd. 4. 35,^^ rep- 
resent a composite Anglo-Norman work which links portions of the 
apocryphon to a Complaint of Our Lady, drawn largely from biblical 
sources. It is an emotionally charged lament in the first person in the 
tradition of the Mater Dolorosa. The planctus section first incorporates 
the episode of the imprisonment of Joseph (from chaps. 12 and 15 of 
the EN) and then adds, in third-person narrative, the material pertain- 
ing to Joseph from chapters 12-17. Both parts of this Anglo-Norman 
work were printed by Marx and Drennan in conjunction with their edi- 
tion of the Middle English text.^ The editors suggest that this trun- 
cated version of the apocryphon might have come about in England 
because of the growing interest in Joseph of Arimathea as the apostle 
of Britain.^' This might also explain the dimirushed role accorded the 
Harrowing of Hell, the account of Carinus and Leucius being here 
reduced to fewer than 200 words.^ 

Extensive material from the EN has been absorbed into yet another 
work brought to our attention by Alexandre Micha as "une autre 

^' Ford, L'tvangile de Nicodbne, 27. 

^ This text, though greatly compressed, was taken directly from Vincent of 
Beauvais's Speculum historiale (see below, pp. 116-18). See the edition of this short 
text in Richard O'Gorman, "The Text of the Middle French tvangile de Nicodtme 
from Paris, Biblioth^ue Nationale, f . fr. 15219," Medium JEvum 61 (1992): 298-302. 

'' This is a late fifteenth-centtuy fragment of two folios, bound at the begin- 
ning of a codex containing Latin texts. It represents the remzdns of the sequence 
Complaint and tvangile de Nicodhne, although only a short fragment of the 
Nicodtme was spared the mutilation (C. W. Marx and Jeanne F. Drennan, eds.. The 
Middle English Prose Complaint of Our Lady and Gospel ofNicodemus, Middle English 
Texts, vol. 19 [Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1987], 118.10-19.9); see also C. William 
Marx, "A Newly Identified Fragment of the Anglo-Norman Prose Complaint of 
Our Lady and Gospel ofNicodemus in Cambridge University Library MS Dd. 4. 35," 
Notes & Queries 236 (1991): 157-58. 

^ Marx and Drennan, The Middle English Prose Complaint, 73-136. 

^ Ibid., 41; cf. Valerie M. Lagorio, "The Evolving Legend of St Joseph of 
Glastonbury," Speculum 46 (1971): 209-31; idem, "Joseph of Arimathea: The Vita 
of a Grail Saint," Zeitschrift fur romanische Philologie 91 (1975): 54-68. 

*° Maix and Drennan, The Middle English Prose Complaint, 41. 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 113 

[Passion-tvangile de Nicodeme] encore plus longue."*^ Micha provides 
a list of six manuscripts of this work, known eifter its incipit as Selon la 
sentence du philozophe Aristote: 

Lyon, Bibl. mun. MS. 864 
Paris, BN MS. fr. 968 
Paris, BN MS. fr. 969 
Paris, BN MS. fr. 973 
Paris, BN MS. fr. 975 
Paris, BN MS. fr. 24438. 

We must delete from this list BN MS. fr. 24438, a text closely related to 
the long version attributed to Gamaliel and edited by Le Merrer,*^ 
and add: 

Bern, Biirgerbibliotek MS. 82*^ 

Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliotek MS. De Thott 132 

Paris, Biblioth^ue de 1' Arsenal MS. 2076 

Paris, Bibliotheque de 1' Arsenal MS. 6869 

Privas, Archives departementales de I'Ardeche MS. 4 (I. 3) 

plus two incunabula described by Roy.** This list of manuscripts can 
surely be lengthened by a careful search of library catalogues. Tliis text 
noticed by Micha is an extremely long work of a composite nature, 
unstudied, it would seem, by those working in the field. Though not, 
strictly speaking, a version of the tvangile, it is a Passion narrative 
combining a goodly amount of pious and moral material for medita- 
tion, drawn from a wide variety of sources, including the church 
fathers and medieval philosophers and theologians, with a liberal nux- 
ture of biblical narrative, canonical and apocryphal alike.*^ It traces 
the events of Holy Week from the raising of Lazarus in Bethany to the 
appearance of the risen Savior to his followers and the visit of the 
Holy Ghost at Pentecost. In the Copenhagen manuscript, the text fills 
no fewer than ninety-seven folios, including a summary of such events 

*' Micha, "Une Reaction," 1291. 

*^ Le Merrer, "fidition de la version en prose de I'^vangile de Nicodeme." In 
fact, BN MS. fr. 24438 contains two Passion narratives: tfie passion composed for 
Isabeau de Bavi^re, which opens the manuscript (fols. lr-82r) and is briefly dis- 
cussed below, and the tvangile selon Gamaliel (fols. 140v-201v). 

*^ Hermaimus Hagen, Catalogus codicum Bemensium (Bemae: B. F. Haller, 
1875), 99-100. 

** Roy, Le Mysttre, 255. 

*' There is, for example, an CEdipus-Iike story of Judas (MS. De Thott 132, fol. 
61r-v), the accoimt of the healing of Longinus (fol. 83r-v), and the message from 
Pilate's wife not to puiush Jesus (his innocence was revealed to her in a dream; 
fol. 68v). 


from the apocryphon as the interrogation by Pilate, the imprisonment 
of Joseph, and the Descent into Hell. The heading begins: 

Cy commence I'istoire de la passion nostre Seigneur Jhesucrist, 
le benoist Filz de Dieu et de la glorieuse Vierge Marie, le 
Sauveur du monde, laquelle il voult souffrir pour la redemp- 
tion de I'umain lignaige, regnant Thiberien empereur de 
Romnie, nomme Cezar, en I'an xviii""^ de son regne 

(Here begins the story of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 
the blessed son of God, and of the glorious Virgin Mary, the 
Savior of the world, the Passion he willingly suffered for the 
Redemption of the human race, in the reign of Tiberius, 
emperor of Rome named Caesar, in the eighteenth year of his 
reign. . . .) 

The incipit reads: 

Selon la sentence du philozophe Aristote en son premier livre 
de phisique: Qui veult avoir congnoissance d'aucune chose 
parfaittement, il doit premierement les causes enquerir et 

(According to the saying of the philosopher Aristotle in his 
first book of Physics: whoever desires knowledge of anything 
perfectly, he must first inquire and seek the causes.) 

The account of Joseph's release from prison is found among the re- 
ported appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection: 

Comment nostre Seigneur delivra Joseph de la prison 

Nostre Seigneur Jhesucrist se departi d'elles et s'apparut a 
Joseph qui I'avoit enseveli, lequel les juifz avoient mis en 
prison pour le service qu'il avoit fait a nostre Seigneur Jhesu- 
crist. Et estoit enclos en ung petit lieu moult estroictement 
seelle et ferme, et avoient conclud de I'occirre mais que le 
samedi fut passe. Adonc vint nostre Seigneur a lui et lui 
essuia ses yeulx qu'il avoit tous moueillez de lermes, et le 
visaige aussi, puis le baisa et le mist hors de celle prison sans 
ce que les seaulx ne les huis feussent despecez, et le ramena 
tout sain en son hostel.^'' 

^ Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliotek MS. De Thott 132, fol. Ir. 
*^ Ibid., fol. 90v. 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 115 

(How Our Lord delivered Joseph from prison > 

Our Lord Jesus Christ took leave of them and appeared to 
Joseph, who had buried him, whom the Jews had cast into 
prison for the service that he had rendered Our Lord Jesus 
Christ. And he was shut up in a tiny place, tightly sealed and 
closed, and they had decided to kill him as soon as the Sab- 
bath was passed. Then Our Lord came to him and wiped his 
eyes that were all moist with tears, and his face also, then he 
kissed him and freed him from that prison without breaking 
the seals or shattering the doors, and he returned him safely 
to his house.) 

Since Selon la sentence du philozophe Aristote is likely to remain unedited 
for some time to come, I give in the appendix the entire Descensus 
section, again according to the Copenhagen manuscript. This account 
appears to derive from Jacobus a Voragine's Legenda aurea^ or from 
one of the French trar\slations of it. 

Selon la sentence is said in fact to owe much to pseudo-Bonaven- 
ture's Meditationes vitae Christi,^^ an extremely popular work of Fran- 
ciscan spirituality, which inspired also, more or less directly, an anony- 
mous Passion narrative in French prose composed in 1398, at the 
behest of Isabeau de Baviere.^ The Passion Isabeau recounts events in 
the life of Christ, from the resurrection of Lazarus to the Crucifixion 
and burial; a short excerpt is given by Roy.^^ In the first half of the 
fifteenth century, it presumably served as a basis for Selon la sentence. 
Since little is known about the various late medieval Passions, we shall 
have to await a thorough study of their texts to determine the indebt- 
edness of the Passion Isabeau and Selon la sentence to the Meditationes, as 
well as their mutual relationships.^^ 

^ Jacobus a Voragine, Jacobi a Voragine Legenda aurea uulgo Historia Lomhardica 
dicta, ed. Th. Graesse (Dresden: Impensis Librariae Amoldianae, 1890), 242-44. 

*' Roy, U Mystere, 250-55. 

™ Ibid., 250-54; Edelgard E. DuBruck, "The Passkm Isabeau (1398) and Its Re- 
lationship to Fifteenth-Century Mysteres de la Passion," Romania 107 (1986): 77-91. 

^' Le Mysttre, 261-62. This text has now been edited by Edelgard E. EhiBruck, 
La Passion Isabeau: Une Edition du manuscrit Fr. 966 de la Bibliothique Nationale de 
Paris (New York: Peter Lang, 1990). 

^^ A somewhat compressed Middle French adaptation of the Meditationes was 
made for Jeem, Ehic de Berry, sometime between 1380 and 1403. This Vie de nostre 
benoit Sauveur Ihesuscrist, often attributed to Jean Gerson because of a version of 
the Chancellor's sermon "Ad Deum vadit" interpolated into it, is extant in three 
manuscript copies (two complete) and partially in three incunabula. In the recent 
edition by Millard Meiss cmd Elizabeth H. Beatson, La Vie de Nostre Benoit Sauveur 
Ihesucrist & La Saincte Vie de Nostre Dame (New York: New York University Press, 


Almost the entire tvangile was absorbed into yet another French 
work, a compilation of apocryphal legends in Paris, BN MS. fr. 95 
(known as the Andrius manuscript), entitled by the recent editors The 
Penitence of Adam^^ This work combines an account of the postlapsa- 
rian life of Adam and Eve with the tvangile de Nicodeme, the two joined 
by a transitional quest of Seth and the story of the holy rood. Narrative 
unity is thus achieved: Adam's exile from paradise is brought to a con- 
clusion with the return to paradise as a result of Christ's sacrifice on 
the cross and the Harrowing of Hell, fulfilling the promise of Redemp- 
tion made to Seth. The typological relationship between Adam and 
Christ underlies the progression from Fall to Redemption, and the tree 
that sprang from the seed planted in Adam's mouth connects the tree 
of life with the wood of the cross. The tvangile section does not include 
the trial before Pilate (doubtless for reasons similar to those of Andr^ 
de Coutances) but begir\s with the descent from the cross and the 
imprisonment of Joseph, and it continues through Christ's Harrowing 
of Hell, as reported by "Carin et Lyoncel." The text concludes with 
Pilate's letter to Claudius.^ 

This brief outline only begins to give an account of the rich body 
of translations and adaptatior\s of the apocryphal gospel in Old French. 
I have not even mentioned Jean de Vignay's unedited translations 
of Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum historiale and Jacobus a Voragine's 
Legenda aurea, both of which, extant in many manuscripts, contain long 
excerpts from the apocryphon.^^ Apparently unrelated to Jean's work 
is the Middle French redaction of that portion of Vincent's Speculum 

1977), I have noted the influence of the EN in the following episodes: the miracle 
of the standards (Christ before Pilate is honored by the servant, «ind the standards 
lower in his presence [61-63]), Procula's dread (86), the mission to the imder- 
world (110-15), the imprisonment of Joseph (115-16), and his release (119). When 
asked where Jesus was, the guard poses the usual condition: "Si nous rendez 
Joseph d'Abarimathe, et nous vous rendrons Jhesus de Nazareth" (126). See 
Genevifeve Hasenohr, "A propos de la Vie de Nostre Benoit Saulveur Jhesus Crist," 
Romania 102 (1981): 352-91, who revises the accepted date of composition, author- 
ship, and localization of the work and argues that the dedication to Jean de Berry 
is a fake, added many years later. A start in sorting out these various passion nar- 
ratives in the tradition of the Meditationes has recently been made in the introduc- 
tion to Sean Caulfield's dissertation, "An Edition of the Middle French Prose 
'Resurrection nostre Saulveur Jhesucrist,' Based on Vatican, Reginensis Lat. 1728" 
(Ph.D. diss.. University of Iowa, 1993). 

^^ Esther C. Quinn and Micheline Dufau, eds.. The Penitence of Adam: A Study 
of the Andrius MS, Romimce Monographs, vol. 36 (University, Miss.: Romance 
Monographs, 1980). 

^ Ibid., 92-101. 

^^ Monique Paulmier-Foucart and Serge Lusignan, "Vincent de Beauvais et 
I'histoire du Speculum Maius," Journal des savants (1990): 121-22; C. Knowles, "Jean 
de Vignay, un traducteur de XIV* si^cle," Romania 75 (1954): 353-83. 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 


historiale which summarizes the events from the deposition and en- 
tombment to the account of the risen sons of Simeon, Leucius and 
Carinus, witnesses to the Harrowing of Hell; it is preserved in Paris, 
BN MS. fr. 15219, fols. 37r-40r. The following excerpts from Vincent's 
Latin text (bk. 7, chap. 58)^ and from the French translation may give 
some idea of the faithfulness and skill of the anonymous translator:^ 

Haec audientes, omnes gauisi 
sunt: Et euntes Annas, & Caiphas, 
Nicodemus, & Joseph, & Gamaliel, 
non inuenerunt eos in sepulchris: 
sed ambulantes in Arimathiam 
inuenerunt eos ibi in oratione, 
flexis genibus: & osculantes eos 
ciun omni veneratione, & timore 
Dei perduxerunt eos Hierusalem 
in sinagogam: clausisque ianuis 
tollentes legem Domini, posue- 
nmt in manibus eorum, coniu- 
rantes eos per Deum Adonai, qui 
per legem, & Prophetas locutus est, 
dicentes: Dicite si creditis, quod 
ipse sit Christus, qui vos resusci- 
tauit a mortuis: & enarrate nobis 
quomodo resurrexistis. 

Ces choses oyes, il se leverent, 
c'est assavoir [39r] Annas, Cay- 
phas, Nicodemus, Joseph, et Ga- 
maliel, et alerent aux tumbeaux et 
ne trouverent mie les corps. 
Apres ilz alerent a Abarimatie et 
les trouverent a genoulx en oroi- 
son. Adonc ilz les viserent a grant 
reverance et devocion et les mene- 
rent a Jherusalem en la signago- 
gue. Et comme les portes furent 
fermees, ilz apporterent la loy 
Dieu et la misdrent en leurs mains 
et les conjurerent en telle maniere: 
— Nous vous conjurons, firent 
ilz, de par le Dieu qui ceste loy 
donna, que vous nous diez se 
c'est mes Sire qui vous a ressusi- 
tez, et nous racontez en quelle 

* Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum historiale (1624; repr., Graz: Akademische 
Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1965), 242. 

^ O'Gorman, "The Text," 301. (Translation of the French passage: Having 
heard these things, they arose, that is Annas, Cayphas, Nicodemus, Joseph, cind 
Gamaliel, and went to tiie graves, but they did not find the bodies diere. After- 
wards, they went to Arimathea and foimd tfiem kneeling in prayer. Then they 
beheld them with great reverence and devotion, and they led them to the syna- 
gogue in Jerusalem. And when the doors were dosed, they brought out the book 
of the law of God and placed it in their hands and entreated them as follows: 

— We entreat you, they said, by the God who wrote the law, that you tell us 
whether it was my Lord who raised you up from die dead, and relate to us how 
it was done. 

Then Carinus <md Leucius, for that was what tfiey were called, when they 
heard themselves entreated thus, begem to tremble and sigh and, raising their 
eyes to heaven, they made the sign of the cross on their tongues and began to 

— Give us, they said, parchment «md ink, and we shciU write down those 
things that we have heard and seen.) 


Hanc ergo coniurationem audien- Adonc Cari[n]us et Leudus, 

tes Carinus, & Leuciiis, centre- car ainsi estoier\t ilz appellez, 
muerunt corpore, & gemuenint quant il se virent ainsi conjurez, 
corde: simulque in caeluni respi- conunencerent a trembler et a 
cientes, feceruntque digitis suis souppirer et puis leverent leurs 
signaculum crucis super linguas yeulx au ciel et firent le signe de 
suas: & statim simul Icxruti sunt la croix sur leurs langues et com- 
dicentes. Date nobis singulos mencerent a parler: 
tomos chartae, & scribemus, quae — Donnez nous, firent ilz, du 

vidimus, & audiuimus. parchemin et de I'ancre et nous 

escriprons ce que nous avons oy 

et veu. 

Other literary works, too, await investigation for what they might 
reveal of apocryphal influence. For example, portions of the ^vangile 
are likely to have been incorporated into a work known as the Bible 
historiale.^ One such Bible, London, BL MS. Addit. 54325,^ con- 
tains — according to the catalogue — a listing of two chapters possibly 
connected to the apocryphal story of Joseph of Arimathea: "La perse- 
cucioun Joseph de Arimathie" and "La pees Joseph de Arimathie." 
This and other biblical and pseudo-biblical texts might well yield a rich 
harvest of apocryphal material. 

2. Appropriation of themes 

Alongside this tradition of direct translation and adaptation of the EN, 
often cormected with the incorporation of blocks of apocryphal materi- 
al into longer pious or religious texts, some of its narrative elements 
were woven into secular or quasi-religious works, going back to the 
twelfth century, if not earlier. References to the apocryphon are found 
scattered throughout medieval French literature, appearing in Chretien 

^ This work, preserved in numerous manuscripts (at least 20 in the BN 
alone), came from the pen of Guyart des Moulins. At the end of the thirteenth 
century, this Picard author translated the Historia scholastica of Peter Comestor 
and enriched it with matericd from the Bible to produce a truly popular biblical 
narrative; see Samuel Berger, La Bible frangaise au moyen Age (Paris: Imprimerie 
nationale, 1884), 157-99; Bonnard, Les Traductions, 3-8; Hans Robert Jauss, ed.. La 
Litterature didactique, alligorique, et satirique, Grundriss der romanischen Literaturen 
des Mittelalters, vol. 6, pt. 1 (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1968), 29-30; R. P. McGeer, 
"Guyart Desmoulins, the Vernacular Master of Histories and His Bible Historiale," 
Viator 14 (1983): 211-44. 

^ Formerly Phillipps MS. 3202, sold at Sotheby's on 28 November 1967 (New 
Series HI, Lot 96). The sale to the Hvintington Musevmi was pre-empted by the 
British Library. 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 119 

de Troyes's Perceval,^ Rutebeuf's Dist de Nostra Dame/'^ the Roman de 
la rose,^ and in numerous credos of the chansons de geste.^ In the col- 
lection of pious tales known as the Ci nous dit,^ we find a brief 
account of the imprisonment of Joseph ("comment li debonnaires 
Jesucriz desprisonna le bon Joseph d'Abarimatie," chap. 109), the 
Descent into Hell ("comment Garicius et Lancius qui furent filz saint 
Simeon ressussiterent," chap. 112), the story of Longinus ("dz aveugles 
qui feri cest angoisseus coup," chap. 83a), and so on. While it is not 
certain whether all of these references betray direct influence from the 
EN (certainly the Ci nous dit does), they do attest to the popularity of 
the stories of Joseph of Arimathea and the doctrine of the Descent of 
Christ into Hell in Old French literature.^ 

In general. Old French romances tended to quarry the EN, espe- 
cially chapters 11 to 16 (the second part of the Gesta Pilati), for the non- 
canonical elements cormected with the figure of Joseph of Arimathea; 
in contrast. Passion narratives and dramatic texts usually concentrated 
on the story of Christ's Descent into Hell to free the righteous who had 
died prior to his sacrifice on the cross (the Descensus Christi ad inferos). 

2.1. Old French romances 

The apocryphal story of Joseph of Arimathea taken from the Gesta 
Pilati was first told on French soil by Gregory of Tours in an introduc- 
tory chapter in his Historia Francorum,^ testimony to the apocry- 
phon's being known and read in sixth-century France. Gregory relates 
that Joseph was imprisoned by the chief priests but was freed by the 
risen Savior when the walls of his prison were suspended in air 
("nocte parietes de cellula . . . suspenduntur in sublimi"; "at night the 

*" Chretien de Troyes, Le Roman de Perceval ou le Conte du Graal, ed. William 
Roach, 2d ed., Textes litt^raires frangais (Geneva: Droz, 1959), w. 585-88. 

^' Rutebeuf, CEuvres completes de Rutebeuf, ed. Edmond Faral and Julia Bastin, 
2 vols. (Paris: Picard, 1959-60), 1:238, w. 76-82. 

" Guillaume de Lorris and Jeain de Meun, Le Roman de la rose, ed. F61ix Lecoy, 
vol. 3, Classiques fran^ais du moyen age, vol. 98 (Pciris: Champion, 1979), w. 

" Pierre RueUe, ed., Huon de Bordeaux, Universite libre de Bruxelles: Travaux 
de la Faculte de philosophie et lettres, vol. 20 (Brussels: Presses universitaires, 
1960), w. 2036-38. 

^ Gerard Blangez, ed., Ci nous dit: Recueil d'exemples moraux, 2 vols., Sod^t^ 
des anciens textes frangais (Paris: Piccird, 1979-86). 

^ Widespread iconographic evidence further confirms the popularity of tiie 
two themes in twelfth- and thirteenth-century France; see fimile Male, L'Art 
religieux du Xllle siecle en France, 8th ed. (Paris: A. Colin, 1948), 163-66. 

" PL 71:171-73. 


walls of the cell . . . were suspended on high"). When the guards were 
asked to produce the body of Christ, they answered: "Reddite vos 
Joseph, et nos reddimus Christum" ("You return Joseph, and we shall 
return Christ"), an echo of EN 13.2, where the soldiers say: "loseph 
nos damus. Date vos lesum" ("We shall give Joseph. You give us 
Jesus"). The bishop of Tours was also familiar with Pilate's letter to 
Tiberius: "Pilatus autem Gesta ad Tiberium Caesarem mittet, et ei tarn 
de virtutibus Christi, quam de Passione vel resurrectione ejus insinuat" 
("And Pilate sent the Acts to emperor Tiberius, and iiiformed him both 
about Christ's virtues and about his Passion or Resurrection").^^ Since 
Gregory omits the Descensus portion altogether, we might suppose that 
his exemplar, like the palimpsest preserved in Vierma, was perhaps 
representative of the earliest Latin form of the pseudo-gospel, before 
the Harrowing of Hell was added to it.^ 

The legendary story of Joseph of Arimathea shaped the evolution 
of the literature of the Grail. Around the turn of the twelfth century, a 
Burgundian poet, Robert de Boron, composed Le Roman de I'estoire dou 
Graal, better known as Le Joseph d'Arimathie. Moved by Chretien de 
Troyes's unfinished romance Le Conte del Graal (or the Perceval), but 
puzzled presumably by the interpretation to be placed on Chretien's 
vessel — called here for the first time "graal" — Robert set out to write 
its prehistory and in the process transformed the grail (with lower case 
"g") into the Holy Grail. A stroke of real inspiration led Robert to the 
remarkable idea that the Grail was first and foremost the cup or vessel 
that Christ used to hold the wine while uttering the words of consecra- 
tion at the Last Supper; it was subsequently employed by Joseph of 
Arimathea to collect the blood of the Savior as it flowed from his 
wounds during the preparation of his body for burial. This same 
vessel, now twice hallowed, contaiiung as it did first the transubstanti- 
ated blood of Christ, then his real blood shed during his sacrifice on 
the cross, became in Joseph's possession the centerpiece of a mystical 
service, the prototype of the chalice of the mass, and, in later ro- 
mances, the object of the quest for spiritual perfection by the knights 
of the Round Table. 

After the burial of Christ, Joseph was imprisoned by the Jews lest 
he revealed the iniquity of their actions. If they were asked where 
Jesus was, they would say that his body had been given to Joseph: "Se 
vous Joseph ci nous rendez, / Par Joseph Jhesu raverez."^' However, 

" Ibid., 172. 

^ Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," 177; Guy Philippart, 
"Les Fragments palimpsestes de I'fivangile de Nicod^me dans le Vindobonensis 
563 iV s.?)," Analecta Bollandiana 107 (1989): 171-«8. 

^ Robert de Boron, Le Roman de I'estoire dou Graal, ed. William A. Nitze, 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 121 

Joseph, instead of being released by Christ as in the EN, is miracu- 
lously sustained by the blood relic until the fall of Jerusalem many 
years later, when Vespasian discovers his whereabouts and sets him 
free. Together with his sister, brother-in-law, and a company of follow- 
ers, Joseph with his vessel becomes the central figure in the establish- 
ment of a primitive Christianity, in which the Grail-chalice and its 
table-altar serve to mediate between God and humankind and produce 
for the righteous an ineffable sense of well-being. Joseph dies in the 
Holy Land, but his kinsmen and followers migrate west, to the Vales 
of Avalon, to establish Christianity on British soil. Joseph's table, 
foimded in the distant lands of the primordial cult, looks back to the 
table of the Last Supper and forward to the Round Table established 
by Merlin, with the three tables now symbolic of the Holy Trinity. 

Robert's vision led him to combine apocryphal elements of the 
Joseph story with other pseudo-canonical texts to produce a vast fic- 
tional canvas of the establishment of Christianity and its transfer to 
Britain, a sort of translatio sacri, to link up with the Arthurian legend in 
the process of elaboration at that time. It was Robert who conceived 
this remarkable idea of bridging the gap between Chretien's graal and 
sacred history with a narrative centered on the figure of Joseph of 

Sometime during the first two decades of the thirteenth century, 
Robert's Joseph d'Arimathie, along with his Roman de Merlin, was turned 
into prose.^ Combined with the prose Perceval (called the Didot- 
Perceval),^ also thought to have come from the pen of Robert, the 
three romances form a trilogy of universal history, recounting events 
from the Creation and Fall of humankind to the disintegration of the 
Arthurian world. This prose cycle served in turn as the point of depar- 
ture for a vast compilation of prose romances known collectively as the 
Vulgate Version of the Arthurian RomancesP In several of these works, 
the story of Joseph of Arimathea, as popularized by Robert de Boron, 
contributed to the organization of this huge body of fiction. Chronolog- 
ically, the first of these romances is the Estoire del Saint Graal, a long. 

Classiques fran^ais du moyen Sge, vol. 57 (1927; repr., Paris: Champion, 1957), w. 

^ The account of Joseph's request for the body of Jesus, the deposition and 
burial with Nicodemus's assistance, and his imprisonment by the Jews is found 
in Joseph d'Arimathie, ibid., w. 439-960. 

^ Richard O'Gorman, "The Prose Version of Robert de Boron's Josqth 
d'Arimathie," Romance Philology 23 (1970): 449-61; idem, "La Tradition." 

^ William Roach, ed.. The "Didot-Perceoal" According to the Manuscripts of 
Modena and Paris (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1941). 

^ Edited in Sommer, The Vulgate Version. 


rambling work based on the prose version of Robert's Joseph. The bare 
bones of the story told by Robert, however, are here expanded into a 
long, uneven, fictionalized narrative in which Joseph is no longer celi- 
bate but has a wife and a son, Josephe; after numerous adventures, he 
is finally transported to England with all his followers to become the 
apostle of the British Isles/^ 

This basic story of Joseph of Arimathea was embroidered and 
transformed in numerous ways and absorbed into many thirteenth- 
century Grail romances. It appears interpolated into the First Continua- 
tion of Chretien de Troyes's Perceval^ scattered through the Perles- 
vaus/^ added in the Manessier continuation of Chretien's Perceval;^ 
transformed into the strange and mysterious story of Joseph and the 
Grail told in the Sone de NansavJ^ and interpolated, doubtless, in 
many others (see the discussion of the Livre d'Artus and the Perceforest 

Although, as we have seen, Robert de Boron used primarily the 
apocryphal tradition of Joseph of Arimathea, his debt to the Harrowing 
of Hell was also not insignificant. He recounts that, after Christ's 
burial, "the true God . . . went directly to hell; he freed his friends. Eve 
and Adam, their progeny that the fiend held in bondage, the saints 
and all good folk, for he did not leave any sinless person behind, all 
those whom he had redeemed, those for whom he was delivered up to 
death. "'^ Then, in the opening sequence of the second romance of the 
cycle. Merlin,^ Robert recapitulates this reference to the Harrowing 
by returning to that point in the narrative where the devil bemoans the 

^* Ibid. 1:13-20. 

^ William Roach, ed.. The Continuations of the Old French "Perceval" ofChritien 
de Troyes, vol. 3, pt. 1, The First Continuation (Philadelphia: American Philosophical 
Society, 1952), w. 17561-778. 

^* William A. Nitze and T. Atkinson, Le Haul Livre du Graal: Perlesvaus, vol. 
2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1937), 185. 

^ William Roach, ed.. The Continuations of the Old French "Perceval" of Chretien 
de Troyes, vol. 5, The Third Continuation by Manessier (Philadelphia: American 
Philosophical Society, 1983), w. 32689-770. 

^* Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol 
(Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1963). 

^ Robert de Boron, Le Roman, vv. 593-609. For the teaching of twelfth-century 
theologians regarding those from postlapsarian times whom Christ saved, see 
Ralph V. Turner, " 'Descendit ad Inferos': Medieval Views on Christ's Descent 
into Hell emd the Salvation of the Ancient Just," Journal of the History of Ideas 27 
(1966): 179-87. Peter Lombard, for example, came to the conclusion that all of 
Adam's progeny departed from this life before the coming of Christ could, vmder 
certain conditions, have been saved (ibid., 194). 

^ Robert de Boron, Merlin, roman du Xllle siMe, ed. Alexandre Micha, Textes 
litt^raires fran^ais, vol. 281 (Paris: Droz, 1980). 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 123 

loss of the "friends" of Christ. Here we see the influence of the EN 
(Tischendorf's Latin Descensus A, chap. 22): 

Mout fu li ennemis courciez 

Quant enfer fu ainsi brisiez. 

Car Jhesus de mort suscita. 

En enfer vint et le brisa. 

Adam et Eve en ha gite 

Ki la furent en grant viute. 

O lui enunena ses amis 

Lassus ou ciel, en paradis. 

Quant deable ce apergurent, 

Ausi cum tout enragie furent; 

Mout durement se merveillierent 

Et pour ce tout s'atropelerent 

Et disoient: "Qui est cist hon 

Qui ha teu vertu et tel non? 

Car nos fermetez ha brisies, 

Les portes d'enfer depecies." (Vv. 1-16) 

(The devil was enraged when the gates of hell were shattered, 
for Jesus arose from the dead and went to hell and broke 
down the gates. Adam and Eve who lived in great wretched- 
ness he set free. He led his friends with him into heaven 
above, to paradise. When the devils became aware of this, 
they were as if mad with rage; they were greatly astonished 
and they assembled saying: "Who is this man who has such 
power and authority, for he has knocked down our walls and 
shattered the gates of hell?") 

Thus the stage is set for an infernal council (w. 31-184), reminiscent of 
the deliberation in EN 20 between Hades and Satan. Assembled togeth- 
er, the devils lament the diminishing number of victims banished to 
the infernal region and decide, in order to regain the power over 
humankind that they lost through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, 
to send one of their number to earth to engender an Antichrist.®^ 
(Another text, the dramatic Jour du fugement, also exploits this theme of 
the infernal council, and again the devils' discussion leads to their 
decision to send one of their number, Angignars, to seduce a young 
woman who will give birth to the Antichrist.)®^ 

*' Olin H. Moore, "The Infernal Council," Modern Philology 16 (1918): 171-73. 
At the beginning of his Joseph, Robert reminds his readers that all people "great 
and small, king, prince, duke and count, the patriarchs and prophets, good and 
bad alike, went directly to hell" (Le Roman, w. 11-20). 

^ Grace Frank, The Medieval French Drama (Oxford: Cleirendon Press, 1954), 132. 


2.2. Passion narratives 

Prior to their absorption into dramatic literature, themes derived from 
the EN first figured in verse narratives of the Passion, dating from the 
dawn of literature in the vernacular. Let us begin then by considering 
these narrative verse accounts of the Descent into Hell. From the most 
archaic period in French literature comes a text known as the Passion 
du Christ, preserved in a manuscript at Clermont-Ferrand, originating 
in the north of the langue d'oil but copied in the south by a scribe who 
introduced into its text many Provencal traits:*^ 

Qua e I'enfem dune asalit 

fort Satanan alo venguet: 

per soa mort si I'a vencut 

que contra homne non a vertud — 

Equi era li om primers 

el soi enfant per son pecchiad . . . 

de eel enfem toz los livret, 
en paradis los arberget. 

(And he therefore assaulted hell / and vanquished Satan: / by 
his death he defeated him, / for he has no power over man. 
. . . There was found the first man, / and his progeny, on 
account of his sin ... he delivered them all from that hell, / 
and brought them to dwell in paradise.) 

In later narratives of the Passion, this brief allusion becomes increas- 
ingly lengthened until, based on the apocryphon, a full narrative of the 
Descent is developed. The most influential of these works is La Passion 
des jongleurs,^ itself an intermediary between narrative literature, per- 
haps homiletic in nature, and its representation "par personnages," i.e., 
in dramatic performance. The Passion des jongleurs, as interpolated by 
Geufroi de Paris into his Bible des sept estaz du monde, opens with the 
council of the Jews and closes with the scene of the three Marys at the 
sepulcher. This octosyllabic verse narrative spanning all of Holy Week 
incorporates elements drawn from a wide variety of pious stories and 
legends, including many themes and motifs from the EN (the lowering 
of the standards at the trial of Jesus [w. 961-77], the accusation that 
Jesus was an illegitimate son of Mary and Joseph [w. 944-53], the 
appearance of the devil to Pilate's wife [vv. 1198-257], and the name of 

^^ Gaston Paris, ed., "La Passion du Christ," Romania 2 (1873): 94-97. 
^ Anne Joubert Aniari Perry, ed.. La Passion des jongleurs, Textes, dossiers, 
docvunents, vol. 4 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1981). 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 125 

Longinus [w. 1624-723]). The story of Joseph of Arimathea, though 
brief, adheres closely to the apocryphal source (w. 3753-76): he is im- 
prisoned for his role in the burial of Jesus (w. 3545-50), and when the 
Jews ask the soldiers to produce his body, one of them answers: 
"Rendez Joseph . . . Et nous vous rendrons Jhesucrist" (w. 3759-60; 
"Give back Joseph . . . And we shall give back Jesus Christ"). But the 
author of the Passion des jongleurs goes even further: he borrows the 
entire Descensus section of the EN and retells it in vividly dramatic lan- 
guage (w. 2356-3032). The soul of Jesus leaves his body while it hangs 
on the cross and descends into hell to free his "friends" (v. 2375); then 
the princes of hell, Enfer and Sathan, discuss fearfully the coming of 
Christ who, in a bright light, dispels the darkness and leads out of the 
infernal region Adam and the others (vv. 2899-901). On the way they 
meet Enoch and Elijah, who were spared death in order to combat the 
Antichrist, and the Good Thief Dismas, carrying his cross (v. 2967). 
This narrative passion, surviving in several versions and in many 
manuscripts, was immensely popular and provided many of the apoc- 
ryphal elements that passed into the dramatic literature of late medi- 
eval France.*^ 

2.3. Dramatic literature 

The most pervasive influence of the Harrowing of Hell theme, how- 
ever, is seen in the theatrical productions of medieval France — ^in the 
liturgical drama. The dramatic potential offered by the breaking of the 
gates of hell, the chaiiung of Satan, and the freeing of the righteous in 
a triumphal procession did not go urmoticed by writers responsible for 
the Easter cycles. Setting aside the fleeting references to the Descent or 
those derived simply from the creed, I shall concentrate on those 

^ The title Passion des jongleurs covers various versions of the narrative of the 
Passion and Descent. In addition to tiiis version, adopted by Geufroi de Paris 
(and a similar one in Grenoble, Bibl. mun. MS. 1137; see Bonntird, Les Traductions, 
181), there are two independent versions of the Passion des jongleurs, plus a third 
one interpolated into the Roman de saint Fanuel, the last preserving more faithfully 
the EN episodes (Becker, "Die Sage," 914-22; Owen, The Vision of Hell, 103-9). 
Frances A. Foster, ed.. The Northern Passion: Four Parallel Texts and the French 
Original, 2 vols., EETS OS, vols. 145, 147 (London: Oxford University Press, 1913- 
16), 2:102-25, prints the Passion des Jongleurs according to Cambridge, Trinity 
College MS. 0. 2. 14. Becker, "Die Sage," 923, also points out that Jean d'Outre- 
meuse incorporated a prose version of the Passion des jongleurs into his Myreur 
des hystors. These texts are not to be conhised with the Lime de la Passion, edited 
by Grace FraiJc (Le Livre de la Passion: Pohne narratif du XTV siJtcle, Classiques 
fran^ais du moyen age, vol. 64 [Peiris: Chcimpion, 1930]), a narrative intermediary 
between tfie Passion des jongleurs and the later mysthes, which also contains 
episodes of the Harrowing (Owen, The Vision ofHeU, 109-10). 


works that expand the themes of the EN into major dramatic compo- 
nents of the play. 

The most dazzling pageant of the medieval stage was that showing 
Christ, carrying the cross of victory, issuing from the monstrous jaws 
of Leviathan spewing forth fire and smoke,^ and leading the Old 
Testament personages released from hell to everlasting joy, with Adam 
and Eve in the lead, often followed by the prophets and other denizens 
of the Old Law, sometimes even the entire human race, the "humain 
linaige."*^ This dramatic scene may be indebted either directly to the 
Descensus Christi ad inferos in one of its Latin or vernacular versions, or 
to one of the narrative passions. While the defective manuscripts of an 
Anglo-Norman play. La Seinte Resureccion, suggest that it originally 
preserved a dramatic Harrowing of Hell,^ the first extant text to 
transmit such a scene seems to be the Passion du Palatinus, followed by 
the Biard section of the Passion d'Autun (w. 1866-1913), both deriving 
from the narrative Passion des jongleurs discussed above.*' The Resur- 
rection du Sauveur from Paris, Biblioth^que Sainte-Genevieve MS. 1131, 
presents a brief Harrowing scene in which souls in hell pray for their 
release while Lucifer bewails their impending Redemption. Christ then 

^ The jaws of Leviathan, spoken of in Jb. 40-41 and identified with the 
dragon of Rv. 12, and hence with Behemoth and Satan, represent the gaping 
mouth of hell. "He who will open the gates of the mouth of Leviathan" (MSle, 
L'Art religieux, 425) designates Christ, who, in his Descent into Hell, has overcome 
Sat£m. This is the origin of the iconographic tradition that represents the open 
mouth of the beast as the entr«mce to hell. See Pamela Sheingom, "Who Can 
Open the Doors of His Face? The Iconography of Hell Mouth," in The Iconography 
of Hell, ed. Clifford Davidson and Thomas H. Seller (Kalamazoo: Publications of 
the Medieval Institute of Western Michigan University, 1992), 1-19. 

®^ Becker, "Die Sage," 976. On the elaborate and colorful staging of this scene, 
see Gustave Cohen, Histoire de la mise en schie dans le theatre religieux frangais du 
moyen Age (Paris: Champion, 1926), 92-99; Donald Clive Stuart, "The Stage Setting 
of Hell and the Iconography of the Middle Ages," Romanic Review 4 (1913): 330- 
42; and Becker, "Die Sage," 961-67. Cohen notes, "A I'^tage inf^rieur sur le plan 
des 6chafauds, s'ouvre le Limbe ou attendent les P^res et baye I'horrifique Gueule 
ou Crapaut d'Enfer k travers laquelle on apergoit les diables jetant les damnfe k 
la chaudi^re. Le d^ploiement de feux et de flammes de cet horrible lieu a cont- 
raint de le construire en magonerie . . . ," Le The&tre en France au moyen &ge (Paris: 
Presses universitaires de France, 1928), 60. A few medieval descriptions of conti- 
nental productions are translated by Peter Meredith and J. E. Tailby, The Staging 
of Religious Drama in Europe in the Later Middle Ages: Texts and Documents in English 
Translation (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, 1983); 
see especially pp. 73, 74, 81, 90, 91, 113. Cf. also Philip Butterworth, "Hellfire: 
Flame as Special Effect," in The Iconography of Hell, 67-102. 

^ Frank, The Medieval French Drama, 88 n. 1. 

*' Grace Frank, La Passion du Palatinus, Classiques frangais du moyen age, vol. 
30 (Paris: Champion, 1922); idem, Im Passion d'Autun (Paris: Soci^t^ des andens 
textes frangais, 1934). Cf. Frank, The Medieval French Drama, 126-31. 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 127 

appears to liberate the souls to the distress of the infernal creatures.'^ 
In a second Passion in the same manuscript, the events of the Harrow- 
ing follow very closely the Descensus narrative of the £N.'^ 

Direct offspring of these dramatic productions are the vast specta- 
cles of the fifteenth century, referred to as Mysteres de la Passion. Per- 
formances of these plays lasted for days — four in the case of Greban — 
and embraced a multitude of scenes and characters. The Passion de 
Semur, which translates entire chapters of the EN^^ and the Passion 
d' Arras, by a certain Mercade, seem to be the earliest of this group .'^ 
But the masterpiece was surely the Passion composed or, perhaps, com- 
piled by Amoul Greban in Paris ca. 1450 and performed there at least 
three times before 1473.'* Using Mercade's framework but treating his 
predecessor's material with much freedom, Greban infuses the entire 
production with a tenderness of feeling and a real sense of dramatic 
movement.'^ While the treatment of Joseph of Arimathea here is tra- 
ditional, the scenes from the Harrowing of Hell are truly spectacular.^ 

But Greban's dramatic work had an even longer development in 
store for it. Just as Greban himself appropriated much of Mercade's 
text, so did Jean Michel base his Passion, preserved only in printed edi- 
tions, on Greban's play. According to Frank, "Michel stretches the 
events of Greban's second and third days ... to four, and devotes some 
30,000 lines to them, thus expanding individual speeches to wearisome 
length."'^ The plays of Mercade, Greban, and Michel were exploited 
well into the sixteenth century by all subsequent theatrical producers, 
who combined, adapted, shortened, and excerpted individual segments 
for separate performances.'^ However, a full discussion of these texts 
would go far beyond the scope of these few pages. 

The extent of the EN's influence on dramatic literature can be 
gleaned from the Mystere de la Passion Nostre Seigneur, from MS. 1131 
of the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve in Paris,'' the first full-length 

* Frank, The Medieval French Drama, 139. 

"' Ibid., 141; Becker, "Die Sage," 936-^2. 

^ Roy, Le Mystere, 83. 

^ Becker, "Die Sage," 942-53. 

** Amoul Greban, Le Mystere de la Passion d' Amoul Greban, ed. Gaston Paris 
and Gaston Raynaud (Paris: F. Didot, 1878). Cf. Frank, The Medieval Trench Drama, 

"^ Frank, 77k Medieval French Drama, 181-89. 

^ On the work of Greban, see Pierre Champion, Histoire poetique du quinzihne 
sitcle, 2 vols., BibHoth^que du XV* siMe (Paris: Champion, 1923), 2:133-88. 

^ Frank, The Medieval French Drama, 187. 

'^ A good example of such a derivative production is extant in Le Mystere de 
la Passion de Troyes, recently edited by Jean-Claude Bibolet, Le Mystere de la Passion 
de Troyes, 2 vols., Textes litt^raires fran^ais, vol. 347 (Geneva: Droz, 1987). 

" Graham A. Runnalls, ed., Le Mysttre de la Passion Nostre Seigneur du manu- 


Passion play of the French Middle Ages and a landmark in the evolu- 
tion of tiKe great mysteries of the fifteenth century. It contains 4477 
octosyllabic verses and is generally believed to date from the mid-four- 
teenth century. Its performance was probably associated with a confra- 
ternity dedicated to the cult of Sainte-Genevieve, with its center at the 
church of Saint-fitienne-du-Mont.^°° With the exception of the canoni- 
cal gospels, the EN represents the single most important source for the 
Sainte-Genevieve Passion, which draws extensively on a manuscript 
akin presumably to Tischendorf's Latin A. 

The action of the play extends through Holy Week, from the 
anointing of Jesus and resurrection of Lazarus at Bethany (preceding 
the entry into Jerusalem) to the appearance of Jesus to the Magdalene. 
The playwright was influenced by the Gesta Pilati in several scenes: 

(a) Pilate's family intercedes on behalf of Jesus (vv. 2162-275). 
Although the apocryphon does not mention the son and daughter as 
does the Passion, the nocturnal dream of Pilate's wife comes directly 
from the EN. 

(b) The figure of Veronica (v. 2322) is probably taken from the EN, 
where she bears witness to her cure by Jesus at the interrogation before 
Pilate. In the Passion, however, the legend is fully developed to include 
the cloth imprinted with the features of Jesus at the time of his scourg- 
ing (w. 2320-47). 

(c) Chapters 11 and 12 of the EN inspired the author of the Passion 
to place on stage the quarrel between the high priests and Joseph, not, 
however, without some influence from Robert de Boron's treatment of 
the same event. The entire scene of Joseph's petition for the body of 
Christ through to the Resurrection owes many details to the apocry- 
phon (w. 3167-857). 

(d) The names of the Bad Thief, Gestas (v. 2746), and the soldier 
Longinus, who pierced the side of Jesus (v. 2981), are taken from the 
EN, but for the latter, the legend is fully developed: Longinus is blind 
and recovers his eyesight on contact with the blood of Jesus. 

But a more thoroughgoing apocryphal influence occurs in the 
scene of the Harrowing of Hell, here placed after the Resurrection, as 
was not unusual in French texts of the period.^°^ Rurmalls documents 
these borrowings from EN 18-19, 21-23, 25:^°^ 

scrit 1131 de la Bibliothtque Sainte-Genemtoe, Textes litt^raires fran^ais, vol. 206 
(Geneva: Droz, 1974). 

'«> Ibid., 16-18. 

'°^ Zbigniew Izydorczyk, "The Inversion of Paschal Events in the Old English 
Descent into Hell," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 91 (1990): 439^1. 

'°2 Runnalls, Le Mystere, 287-88. 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 129 

(a) Satan and Beelzebub fearfully contemplate the coming of Jesus 
(w. 3913-68). 

(b) Christ summons the infernal princes to open the gates of hell 
(w. 3969-4026). 

(c) The gates of Hades are shattered, and the saints and prophets 
issue forth, with Adam and Eve bringing up the rear (w. 

The Old French theater, then, owed much to New Testament apocry- 
pha, especially to the EN. With the obvious need to fill out scenes of 
dramatic force as the length of the Passion plays increased, play- 
wrights naturally turned to the apocryphal account of the trial of Jesus 
for the pathos of his torment and Crucifixion and for additional infor- 
mation on the shadowy characters of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicode- 
mus, who laid Christ to rest. The scenes of the Descent into the pit of 
hell are depicted with great dramatic effect: the breaking down of the 
gates of hell, the account of the sons of Simeon who, having returned 
to life, recoimt the events of the coming of Christ to hell, the chaining 
of Satan, and, finally, with all its theatrical possibilities, the procession 
of the redeemed emerging from the fiery mouth of the beast and 
ascending into heaven. 

Although this necessarily brief sketch of the influence of the EN on 
French letters of the Middle Ages must leave much unsaid, the reader 
will, I hope, be able to assess the broad outlines of this influence on 
the various texts of the period, and the student will find here the can- 
vas into which other elements can be inserted. Once the finishing 
touches have been applied to this picture, we shall doubtless be in a 
better position to assess the impact of the Gospel ofNicodemus on the lit- 
erary period extending from the early thirteenth to the closing years of 
the fifteenth century. With the increasing prominence accorded of late 
to the study of popular culture, medieval vernacular translations of 
apocrypha will surely play an ever larger role in our assessment of the 
influence of popular texts on social attitudes. 



La Descente aux Enfers 
(Excerpt from Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliotek MS. De Thott 132) 

[83v] S'ensuit en I'lstoire Saincte que Joseph d'Arimathie, qui estoit 
noble et estoit saint homme et occultement avoit este disciple a Jhesu- 
crist; quant il eust veu les signes, il s'enhardi et vint a Pilate et lui 
demanda le corps au doulx Jhesucrist, et Pilate lui octroya. Et donc- 
ques il osta, ou fist oster, le doulx Jhesucrist de la croix et lui avecques 
Nicodemus I'ensevelirent. 

Comment Jhesucrist descend! ou limbe pour les racheter 

Mais avant que nous mettons de sa sepulture, il nous fault ouir com- 
ment et par quelle maniere ses amis il racheta d'enfer. Pour quoy nous 
devons savoir que tantost que [84r] I'ame feust partie du corps il 
descendit en enter, la maniere comment raconte Nicodeme en son 
euvangile; et dit que entre les autres qui aparurent apres la mort de 
Jhesucrist les deux filz de Simeon le juste, Carinus et Leu[c]ius, furent 
ressuscitez, lesquelz en la presence de Nicodemus, de Anne, de 
Caiphas, de Joseph d'Arimathie et de Gamaliel raconterent comment 
Jhesucrist estoit descendu en enfer et avoit ses amis delivre, et le 
reciterent en telle maniere: 

Comme nous estions en I'obscurte des tenebres d'er\fer soubdaine- 
ment vint une lumiere qui estoit doree et estoit aussi vermeille comme 
la poulpre. Adonc Adam le pere d'umaine creature devant tous s'es- 
jouist et nous dit: "Sachiez que ceste lumiere est la promesse de nostre 
Createur qui nous avoit promis sa lumiere pardurable et son rayon 
pour noz tenebres erUuminer." Vint apres Ysaye qui nous dit: "Veci la 
lumiere de Dieu le Pere qui vient a nous, de laquelle, nous estant ou 
monde, j'avoie prophetise en disant que le peuple habitant en tenebres 
recevroient en lumiere." Apres seurvint nostre pere Simeon qui nous 
dit: "Glorifions et louons Dieu qui nous vient visiter, car moy estant ou 
monde en mes anciens jours je portai Jhesus le filz de la Vierge Marie 
entre mes bras quant il fut presente ou temple, et fuz contraint par le 
saint Esperit dire que mon cuer estoit appaisie en veant et tenant le 
Sauveur qui devoit venir visiter son peuple comme la lumiere pour la 
gloire du peuple d'Israel." 

Apres vint ung habit de hermite qui nous dist: "]e suis Jehan 
nomme et sachiez que j'ai baptise Jhesucrist et I'ai denonce au monde 
et I'ai monstre du doi en disant: 'Veci I'aignel de Dieu qui vient oster 
les pechez du monde.' " Apres vint Seth le filz de Adam qui nous dit 
"Quant j'estoie au monde et vy que mon pere Ada[m] estoit griefve- 

Vernacular Literature of Medieval France 131 

ment malade, je m'en alai aux portes de paradis et priai Dieu qu'il 
envoyast son ange pour me donner de I'uille de sa misericorde pour' en 
oindre mon pere. Mais vint I'ange Michiel qui me dit: 'Filz, tu pers ta 
peine, car I'ange qui portera I'uille de misericorde pour guerir le 
monde ne [84v] sera envoye jusques atant que v"" ii"^ ans seront 
passez.' " Adonc les sains et anciens peres s'esjoirent en disant que le 
temps estoit venu. 

Et quant Sathan vit les peres esjouir, il se doubta et conunanda que 
les portes d'enver feussent barrees et serrees. Et ainsi que Sathan par- 
loit encores, veci la lumiere de Jhesus qui descendit et fit grant bruit 
comme tonnerre en tant que tout enfer trembla et fut ouye une telle 
voix: "Vous, princes d'enfer, ouvrez voz portes, si y entrera le Roy de 
Gloire!" Adant les ministres de Sathan courirent pour fermer et verroil- 
ler les portes et disoient: "Qui est cestui tant fort, tant puissant, tant 
cler et replandissant? One mais Enfer ne se doubta fors maintenant; 
oncques mes le monde qa jus ne nous envoya tel. II ne vint pas comme 
prisonnier, mais pour les prisonniers delivrer. Nous le veons, nous, pas 
comme subget a nous, mais comme nostre juge," et se complaingnoient 
en disant: "O enfer, ou est ta puissance maintenant?" 

Et ainsi que ceulx d'enfer fermoient leurs portes survint le roy 
David qui leur dist: "Seigneurs, pour quoy sarrez vous voz portes? 
J'avoie bien dit, moy estant [ou monde], que celui pour qui vous 
fermez voz portes seroit tant fort et puissant qu'i briseroit les huis 
d'enfer et que barre et verroil a sa puissance ne pourroit resister." 
Ainsi que David parloit la voix secondement fut ouye qui dit que: 
"Vous, princes d'enfer, ouvrez voz portes, si y entrera le Roi de 
Gloire!" Et Enfer respondi tout espouente: "Qui est celui Roi de 
Gloire?" Respondit David: "C'est le Seigneur fort et puissant, redoubte 
en toutes batailles, a qui vous ne pourrez resister." Et ce dit, la puis- 
sance de Jhesus brisa portes, barres et verroilz et nous enlumina et 
resjouit. Et vint a Adam et le salua moult doulcement et lui dist: "Mon 
ami Adam, paix si te soit donnee et a tous tes enfans," et le print par 
la main, et lui et tous les autres il les delivra des peines d'enfer et de 
la puissance des ennemis et les mena hors. Et au jour de sa benoite 
ascencion en celle noble compaignie monta en paradis. 

The Gospel of Nicodemus in 

Medieval Catalan and 

Occitan Literatures 


. ^wi^ he purpose of this essay is to examine four texts which contain 
ViLif Catalan or Occitan translations of the apocryphal Evangelium 
V^ Nicodemi {EN); two of them. Sens e razos d'una escriptura and £ la 
mira car tot era ensems, are in verse and two, Lo Genesi and Gamaliel, in 

This study would have been greatly facilitated by a critical edition 
of the Latin EN, providing information about the archetypal Latin 
translation as well as its subsequent recensions. Without such an edi- 
tion, it is impossible to determine exactly which of the many versions 
of the EN circulating in the Middle Ages served as sources for vernac- 
ular translations, or to ascertain whether the differences among ver- 
nacular texts are due to their use of different Latin traditions or to the 
irutiative of individual translators or copyists. The profusion of frag- 
mentary, abridged, and derivative Latin redactions compounds tihe prob- 
lems.^ The eclectic edition of the Latin EN published by Tischendorf 

' The main secondary sources for vernacular translations of the EN are Jaco- 
bus a Voragine's Legenda aurea and Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum historiale. It is 
likely that bibliced glosses and commentaries, too, served as sources for vernacular 
accounts of the Passion. The Legenda aurea (completed in 1260) was translated into 
Catalan in the last quarter of the tfurteenth century, according to Joan Coromines, 
preface to Vides de sants rosselloneses, ed. Charlotte S. Maneikis Kniazzeh and 
Edward J. Neugaard, vol. 1 (Barcelona: Fimdad6 Salvador Vives Casajuana 1977), 
xvii-xxii. Genevieve Brunei, "Vida de sant Frances. Versions en langue d'oc et en 
Catalan de la Legenda aurea: Essai de classement des manuscrits," Revue d'histoire 
des textes 6 (1976): 263-64, proves that Occitan versions rely on this first Catalan 
translation. The Catalan translation of the Speculum historiale was begim in 1360 
by the Dominican friar Jaimie Dom^nec on the order of King Peter in, "el Ceri- 
moni6s"; twenty years after Jaume's death, Antoni Ginebreda, also a Dominican, 
was put in charge of its continuation; see Jordi Rubi6 i Balaguer, Histdria de la 
literatura catalana, vol. 1 (Barcelona: Publicadons de I'Abadia de Montserrat, 1984), 


is clearly inadequate in light of Izydorczyk's work on its medieval 
manuscript tradition.^ However, to the extent that it gives some indi- 
cation of the apocryphon's textual reinge, Tischendorf 's edition can still 
be useful, especially if supplemented by Kim's transcription of the 
codex Einsidlensis^ and Izydorczyk's study of the manuscripts. 

1. Sens e razos d'una escriptura 

The Occitan poem beginning Sens e razos d'una escriptura, written 
towards the end of the thirteenth century, opens with a translation in 
2144 verses of EN type B.* It then proceeds to relate the story of the 
apostles and disciples going forth to preach the Good News and elab- 
orates the theme of iniquity and sin presaging the end of the world. 
There follow an account of future tribulations of mankind, announced 
in the words of the synoptic evangelists (Mt. 24:4-14, 29; Mk. 13:5-13, 
24r-25; Lk. 21:8-19, 25-26), a description of the coming of the Anti- 
christ, a list of the fifteen signs which are to precede the Last Judge- 
ment, and, finally, a brief vision of the Last Judgement itself. The entire 
work amounts to a total of 2792 verses. 

Sens e razos d'una escriptura is extant in two manuscripts: 

A Paris, Biblioth^que nationale (BN) MS. fr. 1745, fols. 105-24, 
saec. XTV in.^ 

B London, British Library MS. Harley 7403, fols. 1-35; saec. XIV 
in. The first 1374 verses of the text are missing; other lacimae 
indicate that the manuscript has lost some of its subsequent 

136, 138, 281, and Lola Badia, "Fronti i Veged, mestres de cavalleria en Catal^ als 
segles XIV i XV," Boletin de la Real Academia de Buems Letras de Barcelona 39 (1983- 
84): 194 n. 10. 

^ Constantinus de Tischendorf, ed., Evangelia apocrypha, 2d rev. ed. (Leipzig: 
H. Mendelssohn, 1876), 333-434; Zbigniew Izydorczyk, "ITie Unfamiliar Evangeliutn 
Nicodemi," Manuscripta 33 (1989): 169-91; idem. Manuscripts of the "Evangelium 
Nicodemi": A Census, Subsidia Mediaevalia, vol. 21 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of 
Mediaeval Studies, 1993). 

^ H. C. Kim, ed.. The Gospel ofNicodemus: Gesta Salvatoris, Toronto Medieval 
Latin Texts, vol. 2 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1973). 

* Edited in H. Suchier, Denkmaler provenzalischer Literatur und Sprache, vol. 1 
(Halle: Niemeyer, 1883), 1-84, 481-95. In the margins, Suchier notes the corre- 
spondences between this text and the Latin version of the EN as edited by 

^ Suchier, Denkmaler, 483-84; A. Jeanroy, Bibliographie sommaire des chanson- 
niers provengaux, Classiques frangais du moyen age, 2d series, Manuels, vol. 16 
(Paris: Champion, 1916), 18; see also Clovis Felix Bnmel, Bibliographie des manu- 
scrits litteraires en ancien provengal. Society de publications romanes et fran^ises. 
Publications, vol. 13 (Paris: Droz, 1935), no. 154. 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 135 

folios as well.^ The version of the fifteen signs (fols. 27-34) 
in this manuscript is similar to the one found in the Anglo- 
Norman Mystere d'Adam and was published by Suchier, who 
considered it a translation from the latter/ 

The third manuscript, signaled by Suchier, Turin, Biblioteca Nazionale 
MS. L. VI. 36a, containing a partial French translation of the poem, was 
destroyed by fire.* 

In the following discussion, I have limited my analysis to the two 
surviving manuscripts of the Occitan text. My aims are to characterize 
the poem's translation of the EN and its underlying source text, to 
ascertain the form and content of the original Ocdtan work, and to 
assess the relationship between the two manuscripts.' Two scholars 
who almost a century ago turned their attention to that last problem 
arrived at conflicting conclusions: Suchier proposed that MS. A was 
closer to the original, while Meyer suggested that MS. B represented a 
more primitive state of the text.^° 

To facilitate the discussion of the poem, I have subdivided it into 
three thematic sections, without, however, losing sight of the essential 
uruty of the work. The sections are: (a) a translation of the EN (w. 1- 
2144); (b) the legend of the Antichrist (w. 2145-^16); and (c) the fifteen 
sigr\s before Doomsday and the Last Judgement (w. 2417-792). 

(a) A translation of the Evangelium Nicodemi 

The text of Sens e raws d'una escriptura begins with a close translation 
of the B version of the EN, preceded by a prologue written by the 
translator (w. 1-50). In the prologue, the translator makes clear his 
wish to be fciithful to the original Latin (w. 24-25, "car tomaray be 
verament / lo Lati em plana paraula," "since I will accurately translate / 
the Latin into the vulgar tongue"), and his intention not to manipulate 
the text (v. 26, "hon non aura bafa ni faula," "where there will be 
neither jokes nor fiction"). In verses 27-34, he outlines the contents of 
the work, making mention of the eschatological sections (Antichrist, 

^ Suchier, Denkmaler; see also Brunei, Bibliographie, no. 21. 

^ Suchier, Denkmaler, 156-64. 

* H. Suchier, "Zu den altfranzosischen Bibeliibersetzungen," Zeitschrift fur 
romanische Philologie 8 (1884): 429. 

' It has already been established by Suchier, Denkmaler, 494, that neither 
manuscript is a descriptus from the other. 

'" Ibid., 494-95; Paul Meyer, "L^gendes pieuses en proven(jal," in Histoire lit- 
teraire de la France, vol. 32, ed. Paul Meyer (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1898), 104. 


fifteen signs. Last Judgement), which do not belong to the EN but 
which follow the apocryphon in the poem. 

The regrettable absence of a critical edition of the Latin EN seri- 
ously impedes our ability to establish the precise source of the Occitan 
poetic translation. While there is no doubt that the underlying text 
belonged to type B, determining the exact nature of that text and its 
relationship to other witnesses of EN B is a difficult and complex task. 
The poem's dependence on tradition B is apparent from its inclusion 
of the so-called first prologue, begirming "Ego eneas hebreus . . .";^^ 
the Occitan poet gives the substance of this prologue in w. 51-60: 

leu Eneas Mayestre die 

dels Ebrieus ay trobatz escrigz 

lo fagz que fero li Juzieu 

a Jhesu Cristz, lo fil de dieu, 

e Nicodemus que ho vi 

ho escrius tot em pargami 

en Ebrayc segon sa razo; 

pueys ieu en Grec, car mi fom bo, 

ho translatyey e ho escrys, 

si com la letra departys. 

(I, Master Eneas, declare that I have found a writing about the 
Hebrews, concerning the deed of the Jews against Jesus Christ, 
the Son of God. And Nicodemus, who was a witness to it, 
wrote it down on parchment in Hebrew, according to his 
understanding; after that I translated it and wrote it in Greek, 
according to the writing.) 

Moreover, the poem furnishes — in the same way as do Latin B texts — 
the sentences missing from chapters 1.2 and 4.2 of the mainstream 
Latin tradition A.^^ Thus — to quote an example that will be useful 
also later on — the statement found exclusively in EN B, "Die nobis, si 
quis Caesarem blasphemaverit, dignus est morte anne? Dicit eis 
Pilatus: 'Dignus mori' " {EN 4.2; " 'Tell us, if someone blasphemed 
agairist Caesar, is he worthy of death or not?' Pilate said to them: 'He 
is worthy to die' "),^^ is translated in the following maimer: 

" R^ini Gounelle, "Recherches sur le manuscrit CCCC 288 des Acta Pilati" 
(M^moire pr^sent^ pour I'obtention de la maitrise ^s lettres classiques. University 
de Paris X-Nanterre, 1989), 39. In the body of the essay, the EN will be dted by 
chapter and paragraph numbers. 

'^ Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," 181. 

" Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha, 350. 

Medkval Catalan and Ocdtan Literatures 137 

"Aras digas, senher Pilatz, 

de sol aysso la veritatz, 

si alcus horns per ren dizia 

de Sezar alciina folia, 

non es dignes doncs de morir?" 

"Si es" Pilatz lur pres a dir. (Vv. 509-14) 

("Now, sir Pilate, teU only the truth about this: if somebody 
says something foolish about Caesar, does he not therefore 
deserve to die?" "Yes, he does," said Pilate to them.) 

Finally, the narrative of Christ's Descent into Hell clearly reflects the 
Descensus Christi ad inferos B, as edited by Tischendorf ." 

The manuscript tradition of EN B still remains to be worked out in 
detail. Hoffmann and Izydorczyk have noted the existence of two sub- 
groups within this version, differing not only in lexical and stylistic 
features but also in the degree of completeness.^^ One subgroup, 
attested in four manuscripts, contains full texts of the Gesta and the 
Descensus, while another, more numerous, shows gaps extending from 
chapter 2.3 to 4.5 (covering the Jews' charges against Christ, the at- 
tempts of the twelve righteous Jews to protect him, and some further 
details of the trial before Pilate), and from chapter 9 to 11 (covering the 
release of Barabbas, the Crucifixion, and Christ's death, i.e., the sec- 
tions most clearly related to the canoniced gospels).^' Since the Ocd- 
tan poem translates the substance of these frequently excised chapters 
(w. 311-555, 685-856), we may conclude that its author had at his dis- 
posal one of the complete texts of EN B. At this point we might ask, 
firstly, whether the full texts of EN B indeed form a homogeneous tra- 
dition, and, secondly, whether the readings of the full texts are consis- 
tently reflected in the translation. Assuming the translation is based on 
a single source text, the second question could be rephrased as a query 
about the nature of that text. The definitive answer to the first of the 
above questions must await a detailed study of all extant B manu- 
scripts; I hope, however, that my attempt to address the second will 
throw some light also on the first. 

In his doctoral dissertation, Werner Hoffmann proposed a stemma 
of the Latin witnesses of EN B, which not only differentiates between 
complete and incomplete manuscripts but further subdivides each sub- 

" Ibid., 417-32. 

^^ Werner J. Hoffmann, "Konrad von Heimesfurt. Untersuchtmgen zu Quel- 
len, Uberlieferung und Wirkung seiner beiden Werke Unser vrouxven hinxjart und 
Urstende" (Ph.D. diss., Universitat Trier, 1987); Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar 
Evangelium Nicodemi." 

'* Izydorczyk, "Tl\e Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," 182 and n. 25. 


group on the basis of variant readings. For the purpose of comparing 
EN B with the Occitan translation in Sens e razos, I have selected three 
manuscripts. One of them, Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana MS. 
4326 (Lat. XTV, 43; saec. XIV-XV),^^ represents the complete text B of 
the apocryphon; the other two, Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica 
Vaticana MSS. Vat. lat. 4578 (saec. XIV) and Vat. lat. 4363 (saec. XH),^* 
have expunged versions from two distinct lines of transmission. 

In view of the completeness of the Occitan translation, one might 
expect it to preserve the readings of the Venice manuscript. However, 
a close comparison with the three Latin witnesses reveals that this is 
not always the case. Starting with the prologue, the poem inclines 
toward Vat. lat. 4363 rather than towards the Venice text. In the 
former, the introductory homiletic opening, "Audistis, fratres dilectis- 
simi, per sanctum evangelium quae acta sunt ..." ("You have heard in 
the holy gospel, most beloved brothers, what took place . . .")^^ is fol- 
lowed by a defense of the EN based on John 21:25 (where John 
explains that he did not describe all the deeds of Christ because had he 
done so, the whole world could not contain the books that would have 
been written). OiUy after this apology does the typical B-text prologue 
begin. In a similar fashion, the Occitan poem justifies the translation of 
the apocryphon (w. 35-44), pointing out that the substance of the EN 
cannot be found in the Gospels of John or Matthew because many 
things happened in those days which have not been recorded by the 
evangelists. The relationship between the translation and the expunged 
texts is further evidenced by many shared readings. One of them 
occurs in chapter 1.5, in which both Vatican manuscripts read "Viden- 
tes autem ludaei signa quomodo se incurvaverunt et adoraverunt 
lesum . . ." ("The Jews, seeing how the signs bent themselves and 
adored Jesus . . .");^° this clause is absent from the Venice text, yet the 
Occitan translator includes it, "Cant li juzieu ayso an vistz / d'aquels 
signes, que adoro Cristz" (w. 229-30). Occasionally, the translation 
agrees with Vat. lat. 4578 against the other two. In chapter 15.4, Vat. 
lat. 4363 and the Venice manuscript read, respectively, "Ideo te in car- 
cerem missimus ..." ("Therefore we have put you in prison . . .") and 
"Ideo reclusimus te et posuimus custodes custodire ianuas ..." 
("Therefore we have imprisoned you and set the guards to guard the 
doors . . .")}^ The Occitan text, however, has 

'^ Cf. ibid., 174; Tischendorf's witness C. 

" Tischendorf's witnesses A and B. 

" Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha, 334, critical apparatus. 

2» Ibid., 341. 

^' Ibid., 380, critical apparatus. 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 139 

e t'enclausem en la mayo 

hon ueys, fenestra ni bojal 

con avia, ni bo ni mal (w. 1344r-46) 

(and we locked you in a house where there was no door, 
window, or skylight, neither good nor bad), 

a faithful translation of Vat. lat 4578, "Ideo inclusimus te in domo ubi 
nulla erat fenestra . . ." ("Therefore we have imprisoned you in a house 
where there was no window . . .")-^ 

Evidence such as this suggests the Occitan writer had access to a 
complete version of EN B but one that was textually close to the in- 
complete versions, especially to Vat. lat. 4363. This hypothesis needs, 
however, to be further verified through a thorough and systematic 
comparison of the Latin and Occitan texts. 

Within the main body of the Occitan translation, the only impor- 
tant departure from the Latin EN is the inclusion of a planctus by the 
Virgin Mary on the death of her son (w. 897-948), a lyrical common- 
place widely used in Occitan narrative and dramatic passions during 
the late Middle Ages. This digression is inserted into the narrative after 
Christ's death, and more precisely between the departure of spectators 
and executioners and Joseph of Arimathea's request for the body of 
Christ (i.e., between chaps. 11.2 and 11.3). It occurs, therefore, in an 
especially weak portion of EN B, often excised on account of its simi- 
larity to the canonical accounts.^ It may have been to embellish the 
familiar story that the translator added the planctus as well as such 
details as Longinus's blindness. The planctus in Sens e raws includes 
some topoi characteristic of the genre; for example, Mary contrasts her 
former happiness with her present pain caused by the simultaneous 
loss — in the death of Christ — of her father, husband, and son,^* and 
she expresses her desire to die with Christ. The absence of other com- 
mon themes, such as the commendatio of Mary to John, can probably be 
explained by the apocryphal context to which it had been adapted and 
which required certain tiiematic adjustments. 

The text of Sens e razos in MS. B is incomplete, beginning only at 
V. 1375, "vejas qui es parlar ab tu" ("behold who is speaking with 
you"), words spoken by Christ when he appeared to Joseph of Ari- 
mathea imprisoned by the high priests. Throughout the rest of the 

^ Ibid., 380. 

^ Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," 181-82. 

^* The ultimate soiirce of this motif is probably the Planctus beatae Marine 
(C. W. Marx, "The Quis dabit of Oglerius of Tridino, Monk and Abbot of Loce- 
dio," Journal of Medieval Latin 4 [1994]: 118-29), widely circulating and translated 
into Occitan and Catalan during the Middle Ages. 


translation, the texts in MSS. A and B coincide, although B, due to a 
loss of some folios, lacks w. 1962-95 and 2130-60.^ 

(b) The legend of the Antichrist 

An account of the Antichrist, the second major theme of Sens e razos in 
MS. A (w. 2145-416), specifies that the Antichrist will come from the 
line of Dan, be bom out of the union of a whore and the devil, and be 
brought up in Babylon (w. 2267-72). He will subjugate all the peoples 
of the world, conquering those of noble birth by money, the humble by 
fear and by their own imitation of the nobles, priests by his knowledge 
and eloquence, and monks and hermits by performing miracles (w. 
2273-306). Those who do not follow him, he will kill. He will rebuild 
Jerusalem, and the Jews will adore him, believing that he is the Messiah 
(w. 2306-32). After destroying Solomon's temple, he will rebuild it, 
forcing the people to worship him there (w. 2333-42). 

The tribulations of virtuous men will be like nothing that has hap- 
pened since the beginning of the world. They will far exceed the 
Deluge, for then Noah at least was able to save himself and his family 
in the ark (w. 2343-52). These tiibulations will last for three and a half 
years; were they to last any longer, not a single believer would sur- 
vive. At that time, God will return to earth two prophets, Enoch and 
Elijah, whom he had transported live into paradise, but they will be 
killed by order of the Antichrist (w. 2353-73). 

A short time before the coming of the Antichrist, one virtuous 
Christian king from the house of France will reign throughout the 
world. This king will make a pilgrimage to the holy places so that God 
will forgive his sins. On the Mount of Olives he will lay down his 
crown (vv. 2374-93); there will be no other king until the coming of the 
Antichrist. Towards the end of his reign, the Antichrist will climb the 
Mount of Olives to the place whence Christ ascended into heaven and 
will try to do the same. At that moment. Saint Michael, the avenging 
angel, will swoop down and slay him. On seeing this happen, the 
crowds will repent for having followed him and will ask for God's 
mercy; the Jews, Saracens, and Philistines will realize the futility of 
waiting for a new Messiah and convert (vv. 2393-416). 

This story of the life of the Antichrist draws primarily on two 
sources. Verses 2267 to 2332 summarize the Elucidarium, book 3, 

" Suchier, Denkmdler, 485, shows that gaps consist systematically of either 34 
(twice) or 67 verses (once). Since each page in MS. B contains 17 verses and each 
folio 34, gaps are easily explained by the loss of one or two folios (the lacuna 
extending from v. 2130 to v. 2160 corresponds to a folio with 16 verses on one 
page and 15 on the other). 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 141 

chapter 10, often ascribed to Honorius Augustoduniensis,-^^ the re- 
mainder, including the reference to the last king from the house of 
France (w. 2374r-93), appears to be taken from the De ortu et tempore 
Antichristi by Adso Dervensis.^'' 

The reference to the universal flood in the context of the tribula- 
tions inflicted on mar\kind (w. 2343-52) appears neither in Honorius 
nor in Adso. It may, however, be found in the De sant Miquel Arcangel, 
part of the Libre dels angels written in the latter half of the fourteenth 
century by a Catalan Franciscan, Francesc Eiximenis (b. ca. 1330, d. 
1409).^ Chapters 40 to 45 of Eiximenis's work include a description 
of the coming of the Antichrist and the Last Judgement, focusing on 
Saint Michael's intervention in these events. In this context, an allusion 
to the universal flood is introduced with the impersonal and uninfor- 
mative "diu's," "it is said." Eiximenis's account seems to have been 
taken from numerous commentaries and glosses on the Holy Scriptures, 
which he knew most likely through "florilegia" or "summae."^ It is, 
perhaps, not unreasonable to assume that the Occitan author of Sens e 
razos drew on an eschatological compilation similar to that used later 
by Eiximenis. His reference to the flood may, therefore, indicate a cer- 
tain level of biblical learning and exegetical sophistication. 

In MS. B, the conclusion of the translation of the EN and the 
begiiming of the narration about the dispersion of the disciples (w. 
2130-63) are lacking due to a missing folio. Another gap of two folios 
occurs at a later point (w. 2309-75) and explains the absence of other 
important parts of the story: the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the accep- 
tance by the Jews of the Antichrist as the long-awaited Messiah, the 

" PL 172:1163-64. 

^ Adso Dervensis, De ortu et tempore Antichristi, ed. D. Verhelst, CC CM, vol. 
45 (Tumhout: Brepols, 1976); cf. Richard Kenneth Emmerson, Antichrist in the 
Middle Ages (Mandiester: Manchester University Press, 1981), 74-107. 

^ Francesc Eiximenis, De sant Micfuel Arcingel: el quint tractat del "Libre dels 
Ungels," ed. Curt J. Wittlin (Barcelona: Curial, 1983). 

^ Eiximenis mentions the following writers in these chapters: pseudo- 
Methodius, PoUmarchus (a commentator on the former), "Aym6" (Haymo 
Halberstatensis), "Rabanus" (Hrabanus Maurus), and "Strabus" (pseudo- 
Walafridus Strabo). In other words, he quotes the very best of the eschatological 
commentators, most of whom flourished in the ninth century; see D. Verhelst, 
"La Pr^histoire des conceptions d'Adson concemant 1' Antichrist," Recherches de 
thiologie ancienne et medievale 40 (1973): 88. This apparent preference for the ninth- 
century authors may be due to the fact that it was during the last centuries of the 
first millennium that the typology of the Antichrist came to be fixed. It remained 
unchanged throughout the Middle Ages, transmitted in "florilegia" citing the 
above-mentioned authors. On problems connected with identifying the sources 
used by Eiximenis, see Albert G. Hauf, D'Eiximenis a sor Isabel de ViUena: aportacid 
a I'estudi de la nostra cultura medieval (Barcelona: Institut de Filologia Valenciana - 
Publicadons de I'Abadia de Montserrat, 1990), 110-11. 


destruction and rebuilding of Solomon's temple, the reference to the 
flood, and the arrival of Enoch and Elijah on earth to confront the 

(c) The fifteen signs of Doom and the Last Judgement 

The fifteen signs are the terrible natural portents which over the course 
of fifteen days are supposed to destroy the world and announce the 
Day of Judgement. Descriptions of the particular events of each day 
vary considerably in the two manuscripts of the Occitan poem. 

Following some introductory verses (2417-24) and a heading 
("Aysso desus es la passion de Jhesu Cristz. Et ausso son los XV signes 
que veno," "The text above is the passion of Jesus Christ. And these 
are the fifteen signs which are to come"), the A text begins by identify- 
ing St. Jerome as its source ("si co I'escrig san Jeronimes," "As saint 
Jerome wrote"). A new prologue is then introduced, which consists of 
forty verses (w. 2431-32 and 2435-72) extracted from the description 
of the fifteen signs in the Mysthre d'Adam^ an Anglo-Norman reli- 
gious drama from the twelfth century .^^ The order and content of the 
signs in MS. A follow the account contained in Peter Comestor's His- 
toria scholastica, chapter 141,^^ except that the poet intercalates into 
Comestor's account an additional forty-two verses, again from the 
Anglo-Norman text. This amplification is both purposeful and skilful, 
for it manages to expand and enhance the descriptions of the signs 
without destroying the coherence of the text.^' 

At the Last Judgement, its time hidden to all but the Almighty, the 
resurrected will be summoned to the valley of Josaphat by the sound 
of a trumpet, according to A (vv. 2707-92). Angels will carry Christ's 
cross and nails, and Christ will speak first to the righteous and then to 
the sinners. The rewards and pimishments they have merited will be 
fixed forever. The author concludes by stating that he has completed 
the work as outlined at the beginning (w. 27-34). 

™ Edited by P. Aebischer, Mysthre d'Adam (Geneva: Droz, 1963). 

'^ The Mystbre d'Adam was an extensively diffused vernacular source for the 
motif of the fifteen signs; see Uda Ebel, "Die literarischen Formen der Jenseits- 
und Endzeitvisionen," in La Litterature didactique, allegorique, et satirique, ed. Hans 
Robert Jauss, 2 pts., Grundriss der romanischen Literaturen des Mittelalters, vol. 
6 (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1968), 1:194-96; 2, no. 4370. 

32 PL 198:1611-12. 

^ In MS. A, the only signs which do not include any verses from the Anglo- 
Norman text are the third, fourth, sixth, tenth, eleventh, and thirteenth. The signs 
for which texts A and B do not correspond include the fifth, ninth, tenth, twelfth, 
and fourteenth. 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 143 

The description of the fifteen signs in MS. B differs noticeably from 
that in A, as it has no titie and translates faithfully the entire section'on 
the fifteen signs from the Mystere d'Adam.^ Again there are textual 
gaps caused by missing folios: the end of the first sign, the entire sec- 
ond and third, and the beginning of the fourth are missing, and so are 
the conclusion of the fifteenth sign and most of the account of the Last 
Judgement. The narrative is taken up again at what is verse 2758 in 
MS. A. 


As we have seen, the greatest difference between MS. A and B lies in 
their varying accounts of the fifteen signs of Doom. According to 
Suchier, the original narrative was based exclusively on Comestor. The 
account from the Mystere d'Adam was substituted for the original narra- 
tive in an independent branch of the manuscript tradition. Manuscript 
A is thus a result of merging these two traditions: its copyist must 
have had before him both the original version following Comestor and 
the version following the Mystere, and decided to expand Comestor's 
text by interpolating eighty-two verses from the latter.^ Paul Meyer, 
on the contrary, writes: 

Nous inclinons a croire que le manuscrit de Londres [MS. B] 
nous dorme I'etat primitif des deux po^mes: d'abord I'fivan- 
gile de Nicodeme augmente d'un morceau sur I'Antechrist, 
ensuite le poeme frangais des Quii\ze signes.^ 

(It is our belief that the London manuscript records the early 
state of the two poems: first the Gospel of Nicodemus together 
with a fragment on the Antichrist, then the French poem on 
the fifteen signs.) 

Meyer dismisses Suchier's theory with the statement that his reasons 
"ne nous paraissent pas decisives" ("do not appear to us to be conclus- 
ive"). He rejects any argimient for the unity of the Occitan work based 
on siiiularities of style and versification in the fifteen signs and in the 
translation of the EN, attributing these similarities to nothing more 

'* This version of the fifteen signs was edited separately in Suchier, Denk- 
maler, 156-64. 

^ Ibid., 492-95. 

^ Meyer, "L^gendes," in Histoire litteraire, 32:104. 


than the same "mediocre" quality of composition.^^ He ako implies 
that the text in MS. B is earlier than that in A because it is shorter. 

In my view, it is Suchier's theory that offers a coherent explanation 
of the text as we have received it. Firstly, the unity of the work is 
beyond doubt. The plot is already outlined in the early verses (27-34) 
and reiterated at the end, making it impossible to speak, as Meyer did, 
of two different poems. Secondly, the narrative schema, which joins the 
story of the Passion of Christ with the story of the Antichrist, a de- 
scription of the fifteen signs, and the Last Judgement, has French and 
Catalan counterparts.'^ Finally, the text in MS. B caimot be considered 
earlier merely because it is shorter than the one in MS. A, since its 
present brevity has been caused by loss of f olios. ^^ 

Suchier's theory regarding the fifteen signs, although founded 
more on common ser\se than on material evidence, agrees fairly well 
with what the author himself tells us about the poem. In the prologue, 
the author explicitly states on two different occasions that he is trans- 
lating from Latin into the vulgar tongue: 

Sens e razos d'una escriptura 
qu'ay atrobada sancta e pura 
m'a mes e motz gran pessamen, 
cossi la puesca solamen 
de Lati en Romans tomar. (Vv. 1-5) 

la quarta faray de mo sen, 

car tomaray be veramen 

lo Lati en plana paraula, 

hon non aura bafa ni faula. (Vv. 23-26) 

(The meaning and explanations I found in a holy and pure 
treatise have made me thuik much about how I could translate 
it from Latin into Romance.) 

(in the fourth place, I shall use my mind, for I shall traiislate 
most faithfully from Latin into vulgar tongue, where there will 
be no jokes or fiction.) 

^"^ Ibid., 104-5. See Suchier, Denkmaler, 493, on the correspondence between 
verses in the two texts. 

^ On the French text (Paris, BN MS. fr. 1444), see E. Walberg, Deux Versions 
inidites de la legende de I' Antichrist (Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup, 1928), xlviii-lxxv, 63- 
102. Walberg edits only the sections on the Antichrist, the fifteen signs, and the 
Last Judgement. For the Catalan texts, see part two of this essay. 

^ Suchier, Denkmaler, 485. 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 145 

In spite of these declarations, Meyer assumes that a French version of 
the signs was part of the original text. In my view, it is unlikely that 
the Occitan autiior should have included in his work a translation from 
Anglo-Norman as this would have constituted a significant break in 
the linguistic cor\sistency and continuity of his sources. 

2. E la mira car tot era ensems 

The Catalan poem which includes a translation from the EN, E la mira 
car tot era ensems, has not been the object of any studies of the same 
quality as Suchier's work on Sens e razos d'una escriptura; it has merited 
only a rather cursory transcription.^ 

The poem belongs to the genre of Romance Passion narratives in 
verse, which relate the events in the life of Jesus Christ from his cap- 
ture to his Ascension. The simplest forms in this genre follow the 
canonical gospels literally, but more typically the passions include leg- 
endary stories (e.g., the legend of the tree of the cross, the story of 
Judas's thirty pieces of silver) and apocryphal themes from the EN.*^ 
Such is also the case with £ la mira car tot era ensems. The poem is pre- 
served in MS. 1029 of the Biblioteca de la Universitat de Barcelona, 
dated by Rosell to the second half of the fourteenth century.^ The 
manuscript is badly damaged, and the poem has lost both the begin- 

** E. Moling i Brasfe, ed., 'Tassi6, mort, resurrecdd i aparicions de N. S. Jesu- 
crist," Estudis universitaris Catalans 3 (1909): 65-74, 155-59, 260-64, 349-51, 459-63, 
542-46; 4 (1910): 99-109, 499-508. Moling i Bras6s's work provides neither notes 
nor commentary and contains severed errors in transcription. Verse numeration is 
irregiilar; eighty verses which were rendered illegible by damage to the manu- 
script are simply omitted from the numbering scheme. Pending the appearance 
of a new and more acciuate edition, I relied directly on the manuscript, number- 
ing every verse. The first verse, transcribed by Moling i Bras6s as "e s'amira car 
tot era ensems," is a mistaken reading for "e la mira car tot era ensems." Here 
"mira" means "myrrh." Jaume Mass6 i Torrents, Repertori de I'antiga literatura 
catalana, vol. 1 (Barcelona: Alpha, 1932), 43, 380-84, includes some remarks on 
Moling i Bras6s's transcription. 

*^ The greatest number and variety of passions in verse are in French. See 
Paul Meyer, "L^gendes hagiographiques en fran^ais," in Histoire littiraire de la 
France, vol. 33, ed. Paul Meyer (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1906), 355-56, 358; 
Walberg, Deux Versions, xlviii-lxxv, 63-102; Grace Frank, Le Livre de la Passion: 
Pobne narratif du XlVe siicle, Classiques fran^ais du moyen age, vol. 64 (Paris: 
Champion, 1930); Edith Armstrong Wright, Ystoire de la Passion, The Johns Hop- 
kins Studies in Romance Literatures <md Languages, vol. 45 (Bcdtimore: Johns 
Hopkins Press, 1944). 

*^ F. Miquel Rosell, Inventario general de manuscritos de la Biblioteca Universitaria 
de Barcelona, vol. 3 (Madrid: Direcdones Generales de Ensennanza Universitaria 
y de Archives y Bibliotecas, Servido de Publicadones de la Jvmta T^cnica, 1961). 


ning and the concluding portions; the surviving text totals 2506 verses 
in noves rimades. In spite of its incompleteness, the poem is an interest- 
ing, perhaps even original example of a Passion narrative in verse, for 
it interpolates, in a unique way, the tale of the Antichrist into a transla- 
tion of the Descensus with features of EN C.^^ 

To facilitate the following discussion, I have again divided the text 
into four major narrative sequences: (a) the trial. Passion, death and 
burial of Christ (w. 1-492); (b) the Resurrection, the appearances to the 
disciples, and the imprisonment of Joseph of Arimathea (vv. 493-1220); 
(c) the Descent into Hell and the arrival of the Antichrist (w. 1221- 
2329); and (d) tiie signs of the Last Judgement (w. 2330-506). 

(a) The trial. Passion, death, and burial of Christ 

The first surviving pages of £ la mira car tot era ensems provide a narra- 
tive of the sufferings of Christ (w. 62-212), framed by the latter por- 
tion of a legend of Judas's thirty pieces of silver (w. 1-61) and a 
legend of the discovery of the holy cross by Saint Helen (w. 213-308). 
Both legends correspond verse for verse to the narratives which appear 
in the Catalan manuscript of the Biblia rimada under a single title, Dels 
diners on fo venut Jhesuchrist.^ 

*^ Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," 183. There exists 
another Catalan text which follows the narrative design of passions in verse, the 
Poema de la Passid, but its importance for this study is slight since it does not 
directly draw any elements from the EN and devotes only 23 verses to the 
Descent into Hell. It recounts in 688 verses the story of ihe Passion, death. 
Resurrection, Descent into Hell (w. 205-228), Ascension, arrival of the Antichrist 
(w. 477-516), and Last Judgement (w. 517-668). The text is acephalous and dates 
from the fifteenth century; it is preserved in Paris, BN MS. esp. 472, fols. lr-21r. 
It has been edited by Pere BoWgas, "El repertori de manuscrits Catalans de la 
Institud6 Paxtot: Missi6 de Paris, Biblioteca Nacional (1926-1927)" in two 
successive issues of Estudis universitaris Catalans (1930-31) and reprinted in Sobre 
manuscrits i biblioteques (Bctrcelona: Curial edicions - Publicacions de I'Abadia de 
Montserrat, 1985), 247-56. The manuscript is described in A. Morel-Fatio, Biblio- 
thJtque nationale. Catalogue des manuscrits espagnols et des manuscrits portugais (Paris: 
Imprimerie nationale, 1892), no. 637. 

** This manuscript, now in the Biblioteca Colombina de Sevilla, MS. 7-7-6, 
consists of: a) a translation in noves rimades of the Historia scholastica by Peter 
Comestor (the Biblia rimada in the strict sense, from the late thirteenth century); b) 
a prose translation by fra Romeu Sabruguera of the Book of Psalms (end of the 
thirteenth centiuy); and c) five poems, again in noves rimades, relating the legends 
of New Testament characters (fourteenth century), the last of which is Dels diners 
on fo venut Jliesuchrist. See Joan Coromines, ed., "Les Uegendes rimades de la 
Biblia de Sevilla," in Lleures i converses d'un fildleg (Barcelona: El pi de les tres 
branques, 1971), 216-45. On problems connected with contents and dating, see 
Catherine Ukas, "New Research on the Biblia rimada: the Apocryphal Legends," 
in Actes del tercet colloqui d' estudis Catalans a Nord-America (Toronto, 1982): Estudis 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 147 

Until recently considered unique in Catalan, the Biblia rima4a 
account of Dels diners on fo venut Jhesuchrist might appear to preserve 
a text more faithful to the archetypes of the two legends than £ la mira 
car tot sera ensems. For example, where the Biblia rimada reads "estremo- 
ni^," ("wizard"),^ verse 4 of £ Za mira car tot era ensems gives "somia- 
dor" ("dreamer"). Proper names in E la mira car tot era ensems often 
suffer from the same kind of corruption; for instance, "Dermini^" and 
"Eusebi""*^ become "Sermina" and "Humfebia" (w. 8 and 294). How- 
ever, the fact that the Biblia rimada groups the two under a single title, 
which refers only to the first, and joins them only superficially by 
meai\s of a highly compressed story of the Crucifixion, suggests that 
they must have been extracted from a longer text in which they were 
suitably contextualized within the complete story of Christ's Passion 
and separated by a detailed description of the Crucifixion. The only 
Catalan text which meets these conditions is, in fact, £ la mira car tot era 
ensems. I am, therefore, inclined to believe that the legends as they 
appear in the Biblia rimada were extracted from an earlier and fuller 
copy of the text we are concerned with. 

Following the legend of the discovery of the holy cross by Saint 
Helen, the poetic narrative resumes at the point where Longinus 
wounds Christ with a lance (v. 308). In verses 317-30, the narrator 
effects a curious planctus — curious because while it is not unusual to 
find in this type of narrative a planctus in which Mary grieves over the 
death of her son,*^ it is unusual for the narrator himself to deliver the 
lament. The fragment relating the burial of Christ by Joseph of Ari- 
mathea (w. 420-78) appears to be corrupt. Verses 479-92 announce the 
Descent of Christ into Hell, which receives full treatment later. Except 
for the two legends and this tiny anticipation of the Descensus, this first 
portion of £ /a mira car tot era ensems is based entirely on the canonical 

(b) The Resurrection, the appearances to the disciples, 
and the imprisonment of Joseph of Arimathea 

This narrative sequence, relating the angel's aimouncement of the 
Resurrection to Mary Magdalene and the disciples' journey to Galilee 
after hearing the news (w. 493-549), is also based on the canonical 

en honor de Josep Roca-Pons, ed. Patrida Boehne, Josep Massot i Muntaner, and 
Nathanael B. Smith (Barcelona: Publicadons de I'Abadia de Montserrat, 1982), 

*^ Coromines, "Les llegendes," v. 1144. 

*^ Ibid., w. 1146 and 1288. 

*' Sens e razos d'una escriptura, w. 897-948, may serve as an example. 


gospels. In the following segments, in which Caiaphas summons the 
soldiers who guarded the sepulcher and the Jews express their anger 
at Joseph of Arimathea for having buried Christ's body (w. 550-613), 
the author combines an abridgement of EN 13.2-3 with the canonical 
narrative of Matthew 28:11-15. 

After describing Christ's appearance to the two disciples on the 
road to Emmaus (w. 614-62), the poet recounts several episodes with 
counterparts in the EN 12-13.3: the testimony of Joseph of Arimathea 
before the high priests; his imprisonment, death sentence, and flight; 
and the evidence given by the guards of the sepulcher and their brib- 
ery to spread the rumour that the disciples have stolen the body of 
Christ (w. 663-752). The poem continues to rely on the EN in w. 753- 
895, narrating the arrival in Jerusalem of the three rabbis from Galilee, 
who claim to have seen Christ preach to his disciples {EN 14.1), and 
moves smoothly to the account of Christ's appearances to Thomas (Jn. 
20:19-20) and to the disciples on the Sea of Galilee (Jn. 21:1-12). To this 
is added a speech by Christ, in which he announces to his disciples the 
coming of the Holy Spirit and in which he sends them to spread his 
teaching throughout the world. This part of the poem ends with a 
description of the Ascension (vv. 896-927). 

The succeeding segments are drawn exclusively from the EN. The 
three rabbis are bribed to refrain from making public what they have 
seen and to return to Galilee (vv. 928-51; EN 14.2). Some of the Jews 
lament bitterly, but the high priests insist that the apostles must have 
stolen the body of Christ (vv. 952-86; EN 14.3). At Nicodemus's sug- 
gestion, they search for Christ and find Joseph of Arimathea instead. 
They send him a letter inviting him to speak to them. Joseph accepts 
the invitation and explains to them how Christ appeared to him in 
prison and set him free (w. 987-1131; EN 15). The Jews' lament contin- 
ues as they become more and more convinced of the truth of Christ's 
Resurrection. One of them, Levi, remembers the time when he wit- 
nessed the presentation of the child Jesus in the temple. The three 
rabbis are summoned again to confirm their declaration that Christ has 
truly risen (w. 1132-221; EN 16). 

(c) The Descent into Hell and the arrival of the Antichrist 

Although it arranges material in the fashion characteristic of Descensus 
A, E la mira car tot era ensems contains Tischendorf's chapter 28 (w. 
1221-2329), typical of EN C.^ In this sequence, Joseph of Arimathea 

** Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha, 409-12; cf. Zbigniew Izydorczyk, "The 
Latin Source of an Old French Gospel of Nicodemus," Revue d'histoire des textes 25 
(1995): 265-79. 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 149 

and Nicodemus tell Pilate about Carinus and Leucius. Pilate has their 
words put into writing and subsequently orders all the wise men, 
princes of the priests, doctors, and scribes to meet in the temple so that 
he may ascertain from them whether the book they so secretly guard 
in the temple has announced the arrival of Christ. All those assembled 
admit the divinity of Jesus but make excuses for not having recognised 
him previously. They relate the prophecies concerning the coming of 
the Messiah which are found in the Bible."*^ 

Like the Occitan Sens e razos d'una escriptura, the Catalan £ la mira 
car tot era ensems includes the legend of the Antichrist, but its insertion 
into the text is more adroit from a narrative point of view. It is related 
not directly by the narrator but by Elijah, who enlarges upon the com- 
ments made by Enoch in the Descensus (w. 1909-2083). The body of 
the legend is taken from the De ortu et tempore Antichrist! by Adso 
Dervensis, albeit with some variations and omissions. It is worth not- 
ing, however, that in the Catalan version, the figure of the virtuous last 
emperor who lays aside his crown on Golgotha is omitted. This figure, 
probably inspired by the Revelationes of pseudo-Methodius,^ was 
fully incorporated into eschatological texts from the ninth century 
onwards and indeed appears in Sens e razos d'una escriptura. A possible 
explanation for its absence from the Catalan poem might lie in the 
intrinsic logic of its narrative. The Occitan text follows a strict chrono- 
logical order (Passion, Crucifixion, Descent, appearances to the disci- 
ples, persecution of Christians, reign of the last emperor, coming of the 
Antichrist), which would be incomplete without the last emperor epi- 
sode. In contrast, the Catalan text includes the legend of the Antichrist 
because the meeting of Elijah and Enoch invites it as a foreshadowing 
of their future fate. The account of the last emperor is omitted because 
it is not germane to their story and is not required to complete a 
chronological sequence. 

Due to damage caused by humidity, the thirty-seven lines from 
verse 2293 to 2329 (fol. 41cd) are almost illegible. The translation from 
the EN ends with these lines, at a point approximately half way 
through what is Tischendorf's chapter 28. 

*' The same chapter 28 occurs in a French translation of EN (cf. Alvin E. 
Ford, ed., L'tvangile de Nicodtme: Les Versions courtes en ancien frangais et en prose, 
Publications romanes et fran^aises, vol. 125 [Geneva: Droz, 1973], 71 [MS. E]); 
however, a systematic comparison of French and Catalan translations reveals that 
the two are not directly related. 

* Verhelst, "La Pr^histoire," 92-96. 


(d) The signs of the Last Judgement 

At verse 2330 (fol. 42a) the text turns suddenly to a description of 
some extraordinary human beings, tiny in stature, whose life functions 
are over in a very short time; the women marry at four, have children 
at five and die at ten, and the men die at fifteen. Their enemies are 
cranes (w. 2337-42). This description corresponds to the ancient and 
medieval image of pygmies, as indeed they are described by Pliny .^^ 
We must assume that between fols. 41 and 42 some folios were lost, 
although, given the sorry state of the manuscript, this is rather difficult 
to prove. However, the facts that fol. 41 leaves the sequence incom- 
plete and that the next verse on fol. 42 bears no relation to the previ- 
ous verse on fol. 41b strongly support such an assumption. The lost 
fragment would have comprised the conclusion of the translation from 
the EN and a transition to the description of the pygmies. There are 
unfortunately no clues as to what this link might have been. Verse 
2356 situates the pygmies geographically to the East: "delay estan 
enves orient"; given the eschatological context, the text might be 
describing the peoples of Gog and Magog, who accompany the Anti- 
christ, also from the East. If this were the case, however, it would be 
the only instance known to us in which the peoples of Gog and Magog 
are identified with the pygmies.^^ 

In verses 2359-62, the poet or a copyist states that he has translat- 
ed "a^o" (v. 2361; "this thing") from Latin. It is difficult to know 
whether by "a?o" he means the whole work or just the preceding 
description of the pygmies. Directly following this line is a short 
account of the life of Sibyl and her dream of the signs before Dooms- 
day. The final pages of the manuscript are missing, the text ending 
with the twelfth day. 

The sources for the account of the fifteen signs are several. The 
prologue explaining the story of the Sibyl and her predictions to the 
Roman Senate is extracted from pseudo-Bede.^^ The description of the 
signs themselves is similar to that found in the Legenda aurea of Jacobus 
a Voragine.^ The twelfth sign of the Catalan text, "les fembres qui 
seran prius / el ventre cridarein I'infant" ("children will cry in the 

^* Claude Kappler, Monstruos, demonios y maravillas a fines de la Edad Media 
(Madrid: Akal, 1986), 151. 

^^ In another fourteenth-century Catalan manuscript, pygmies appear to be 
located geographically in close proximity to the peoples of Gog and Magog but 
are not in any other way associated with them; see Abraham Cresques, Atlas 
Cataia (Barcelona: Dikfora, 1975), 137. 

" PL 90:1181-«6. 

^ Walberg, Deux Versions, xiii-xlviii and 3-61, esp. 12, w. 285-86. 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 151 

wombs of pregnant women"), is a characteristic element of the first 
sign in the Mystere d'Adam^^ later disseminated in other works as well. 


E la mira car tot era ensems is an eclectic text, compiled from several dif- 
ferent sources. Although we do not explicitly find here, as in the Occi- 
tan poem, internal references which confirm the uruty of the work, the 
fact that it clearly belongs to a specific genre, the passion in verse, 
surely reveals a desire for unity on the part of the author or compiler. 
It is true that all the elements which comprise the Catalan poem exist 
as separate works — Legendes rimades, canonical gospels, EN, the legends 
of the Antichrist and of the fifteen signs — but the compiler has expend- 
ed a considerable effort to link the materials narratively, for instance, 
by having Elijah in the Descensus relate the legend of the Antichrist. 

It is more difficult to know whether the compiler drew only on 
Latin texts or whether he also made use of vernacular translations. The 
accoimt of the fifteen signs appears to have been adapted from a vul- 
gar version, for while some sequences are clearly drawn from Latin, at 
least one, the account of the children who will cry from their mothers' 
wombs, seems to have been taken from the Anglo-Norman Mysthre 
d'Adam. The remark that "ago" was translated from Latin (v. 2361) 
could have been present in the poet's vernacular source. 

The inclusion of Tischendorf's chapter 28, characteristic of EN C, 
by the author of the Catalan text adds weight to Izydorczyk's hypothe- 
sis concerning its Hispanic origin, or, at least, the importance of its dif- 
fusion in the kingdom of Aragon, especially since one of its early 
manuscripts is associated with the Catalan monastery of Ripoll (Barce- 
lona, Archivo de la Corona de Aragon MS. Ripoll 106). Indeed there is 
nothing to indicate that there was not a Catalan translation of the com- 
plete C version of the EN which the compiler oi E la mira car tot era 
ensems might have used as his main source. 

3. Lo Genesi and Gamaliel 

In addition to the poetic translations discussed above, portions of Cata- 
lan and Occitan renditions of the apocryphal Evangelium Nicodemi are 

^ The Catcilan poem follows Jacobus a Voragine, although with some tr<ms- 
positions: Voragine's fifth sign is split between the fifth and tenth signs in tiie 
Catalem poem, and the first part of Voragine's twelfth sign is split between the 
sixth and seventh. Voragine's seventh sign is the ninth in the Catalan text and the 
sixth is the eleventh, to which the poem adds the second part of Voragine's 


preserved in two prose texts, Lo Genesi and Gamaliel. Since the two 
texts were diffused equally in both vernaculars, I shall discuss the 
Catalan and Occitan versions of each simultaneously. 

(a) Lo Genesi 

Lo Gbtesi is a universal chronicle, based on the historical books of the 
Bible, covering the time from the Creation of the world up to emperor 
Constantine.^ It survives in nine manuscripts: five in Catalan, three 
in Occitan, and one in Italian. They include: 

A Paris, Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve MS. 24; saec. XIV ex.; 

B Paris, BN MS. esp. 205, fols. 199v-205r; the text corresponding 

to the chapter entitled "De I'escrit de Nicodemus" in the other 

manuscripts; written in 1400; Catalan.^ 
C Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana MS. Redianus 149; saec. XV 

med.; fragmentary; Catalan.^^ 
D Paris, BN MS. fr. 6261; saec. XV in.; Occitan.^ 
E Paris, BN MS. esp. 541; written in 1451; Catalan. Used by 


^ In his study of the sources of Lo Ghiesi, Paul Rohde, "Die Quellen der 
romanischen Weltchronik," in Suchier, Denkmaler, 589-638, paid most attention to 
those in Latin. His findings should probably be revised to take into account possi- 
ble vernacular intermediaries between the Latin texts and the chronicle. One case 
in point might be the EN, which may have been adapted by the chronicler from 
an Occitan trcmslation rather them fi*om the original Latin. 

^^ Brunei, Bibliographie, no. 247. Fols. 69a-75a are edited in Suchier, Denkmaler, 

^ Morel-Fatio, BihlotMque nationale, no. 80; see also Bohigas, "El repertori de 
manuscrits," 100. It is edited in Suchier, Denkmaler, 398-461. 

'' Description and edition in Suchier, Denkmaler, 398-461, 495-96. 

^ Brunei, Bibliographie, no. 174. Description and edition in Suchier, Denkrruikr, 
398-461, 496. 

*' Bohigas, "El repertori de manuscrits," 139-40. This manuscript was used 
by Miquel Victoria Amer, Compendi historial de la Biblia que ab lo titol de "Genesi de 
Scriptura" trelladd del provengal a la llengua catalana mossen Guillem Serra en I'any M. 
CCCC. LI. (Barcelona: Biblioteca Catalana, 1873). One of the flaws of Amer's 
edition, pointed out already by Morel-Fatio in his review of it {Romania 4 [18751, 
481), is the confusion of the copyist with the translator of the work. Another error 
occurs in the title given to the chronicle, which should read Lo Gbiesi and not 
Gtnesi de Scriptura. This misunderstcmding resvilted from an imperfect transcrip- 
tion and interpretation of the colophon, "Fon acabat lo present libre, apellat 
Genesi, de scriura, a XXnn del mes de Octobra en I'any MCCCCLI, par mans de 
mi Guillem Serra, rector de sent Juli^ de Montseny, diocesis Bardinone." The 
following is a correct tramslation of this closing statement: "The transcription of 
the present book, called Genesis, was completed on the 24th of October in the year 
1451 by me, Guillem Serra, priest of Sant JuM in Montseny, diocese of Barchinone." 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 153 

F Paris, BN MS. esp. 46; saec. XV ex.; Catalan." 

G Paris, BN MS. n. a. fr. 4131; saec. XV; Occitan.^ 

H Rorence, Biblioteca Riccardiana MS. 1362; written in 1444; 

I Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Aragon, Codicum Frag- 
menta 5; last decade of saec. XTV; a single folio that served as 
a cover, the top side much deteriorated; 305mm x 221mm, 
writing space 221mm x 188mm; written in two columns, 38 
lines each. Text begins on fol. la, "Diu al libre de Jenesi que 
en lo comensement del mont crea Deus lo eel e la terra. E la 
terra era buyde e tot lo mont era tenebras, e I'esperit de Deu 
anava sobra les aygas . . ." ("The Book of Genesis says that in 
the begirming of the world God created the heavens and the 
earth. And the earth was empty and all the world was dark- 
ness, and the spirit of God floated over the waters . . /'); it 
concludes on fol. Id, "Lo segon pecat fo desobadienda, con 
trespesa lo manament de Nostre Seyor. E per a^o totes les 
coses qui eren sotsmeses a el li foren desobadiens, axi com 
pecats devorar. Lo tercer paccat fo avaricia, com el cobaaga 
mes que no li era atorgat, e per aquest paccat perde" ("The 
- second sin was disobedience, for he transgressed the com- 

mandment of our Lord. And, therefore, all that was under him 
disobeyed him, as though devoured by sin. The third sin was 
greed, for he wanted more than was granted to him, cind 
because of this sin he perished").^ 

Suchier edited the part of Lo Genesi corresponding to chapters 12 
to 27 of the EN and studied its manuscripts.^ His study might serve 
as a foimdation for a critical edition of the text, but, unfortunately, 
such an edition has not yet materialized. In his study, Suchier estab- 
lishes the existence of two branches in the manuscript tradition of Lo 

" Morel-Fatio, Bibliothique natiormle, no. 8. Described and edited in Suchier, 
Denhmler, 398-461, 4%. 

" Edited in V. Lespy and P. Raymond, Recits d'histoire sainte en beamais, 2 
vols. (Pau: Sod^t^ des bibliophiles du B6am, 1876-77). 

" Described and partiaUy edited in Suchier, Denhmler, 497-98, 573-88. 

" A curious diing about this folio is that it does not come from a manuscript 
of a complete text but is an exercise copy, left incomplete at the end of the last 
column. The copyist did not finish the last phrase even though there is room to 
do so; to fill in the empty space in the line, he just drew a continuous line. My 
dating of this folio is based on the similarity of its calligraphy to that of auto- 
graph letters of Bartomeu Sirvent, belonging to that period. This fragment of Lo 
Gtnesi has been discovered by Mr. Jaume Riera i Sans, who advised me of its 
existence and for whose kind cissistance I am most grateful. 

^ Suchier, Denkmaler, 387-461, 495-506. 


Gtnesi, one represented by the Occitan MS. A, and the other by MSS. 
B, C, D, E, F (D, even though in Occitan, coincides textually with the 
Catalan manuscripts).^^ Suchier signals also the presence in MS. A of 
corrupted readings which may be explained as misreadings of a Cata- 
lan original. For instance, the sentence "E demanderon Elizeu per Elias 
e giqueron lo filh que el I'avian receuput la neuch e que el I'avian 
pausat en paradis terrenal," which occurs in A,^ makes sense only if 
one realizes that "filh que" ("son who") is a misinterpretation of the 
Catalan "fins que" ("until"). This and other details suggest that the 
Occitan MS. A is in fact a translation of the original Catalan work. The 
scant attention accorded Lo Genesi so far is perhaps responsible for the 
persistence of the unexamined notions about its Occitan origin.^' The 
chronicle is clearly in need of an exhaustive textual study, with a 
strong emphasis on patterns of its diffusion, as well as of a full edition; 
only such intensive investigation may throw some light on its obscure 
beginnings and resolve doubts about the nature and extent of its 

Most likely Catalan in origin, Lo Genesi was widely disseminated 
in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. I have located over fifty refer- 
ences to it in late medieval inventories of manuscripts; one of the 
oldest copies belonged in 1331 to Joan de Mitjavila, a merchant of 
Val^ncia.^° In Mitjavila's book, Lo Genesi occurs together with a text 
on vices and virtues; elsewhere, fragments of Lo Gtnesi were inserted 
into didactic collections, perhaps to add to a sense of thematic closure, 
as is the case in MS. B, which contains only the chapter "De I'escrit de 
Nichodemus," transcribed as a continuation of the Catalan prose trans- 
lation of the Breviari d'amor by Matfre Ermengaud. This practice of 
including fragments of one didactic compilation in another was not 
unusual in the later Middle Ages.^^ 

^^ Manuscript G was not studied by Suchier. 

^ Suchier, Denkmaler, p. 391, U. 15-19; EN 15.1. 

^ See Guy De Poerck and Rika Van Deyck, "La Bible et I'activit^ traductrice 
dans les pays romans avant 1300," in La Litterature didactique, allegorique, et sati- 
rique, 1:39. 

^^ "Item I libre en pergami scrit, ab cubertes vermelles, de Genesi et de Vids 
e Virtutes" ("Likewise a book written on parchment, with crimson covers, con- 
cerning Genesis and concerning Vices and Virtues"); see Luz Mandigorra Llavata, 
"Leer en la Valencia del trescientos. El libro y la lectura en Valencia a travfe de 
la documentad6n notarial (1300-1410)" (Ph.D. diss., Universitat de Valtoda, 
1989), 2:71-72. The inventory was previously published by J. Mas, "Notes docu- 
mentals de llibres antichs a Barcelona," Boletin de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras 
de Barcelona 8 (1915): 240. 

^' See Lola Badia, "L'aportad6 de Ramon Llull a la literatura en llengua d'oc: 
per im replantejament de les reladons Ocdt^nia - Catalunya a la baixa Edat Mit- 
jana," in Lola Badia, Teoria i prhctica de la literatura en Ramon Uull (Barcelona: 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 155 

An analysis of the contents of Lo Genesi with respect to the EN 
reveals that the apocryphon was adapted in two distinct sequences. 
The first occurs in the context of the trial of Jesus and combines ele- 
ments of the four canonical gospels and the EN. The author always 
specifies which of the five texts served as the basis for his account of 
a particular episode. In the section entitled "Com los juheus crudfi- 
caren Jhesucrist,"'^ the narrative of the trial before Pilate follows 
closely the EN and incorporates chapters 1 and — in this order — 2.5, 6, 
7, 5, and 9 of the apocryphon.^ All tiiese passages are unambiguously 
attributed to Nicodemus with statements such as 'THu Nichodemus en 
son scrit . . . ," "Atressi diu Nichodemus . . . ," and "Aquestes coses tro 
assi diu Nichodemus."^* The second sequence of borrowings from ttie 
EN, entitled "De I'escrit de Nichodemus," is found after an account of 
the Resurrection and fully covers chapters 12 to 27 of the apocryphon.^ 

Each of these two adapted sequences appears to be based on a dif- 
ferent version of the Latin EN, the first on version A, and the second 
on B. That the vernacular account of the trial follows the Latin A text 
is suggested by the cursor's reply to Pilate, justifying his display of 
reverence for Christ when summoning him to appear before the pro- 
curator of Judea {EN 1.3). In EN A, the cursor refers to his trip to one 
Alexander in Jerusalem ("Quando misisti me Hierosolimam ad Alexan- 
drum . . ."),^^ perhaps the same Alexander who earlier appears among 
the accusers of Christ (EN A 1.1). EN B makes no reference to Alexan- 
der either in the list of Christ's accusers or in the cursor's speech. Lo 
Genesi clearly reflects at this point the text of A: "Senyor, com vos me 
trametes a Alexandri en Jherusalem, viu aquest hom qui anava caval- 
cant en una somera" ("Lord, as you sent me to Alexander in Jerusa- 
lem, I saw this man riding on a donkey").^ 

The remainder of this first part of the apocryphon's adaptation is 
so conderised as to make it difficult to identify other characteristics and 
the exact shape of the source. Such radical abbreviation of the EN is 
not unusual in Catalan texts. A Catalan life of Jesus in BN MS. esp. 
486, fols. 220c-90a,^* combining canonical and apocryphal sources. 

Quadems Crema, 1992), 141-71, on tfie insertion of chapters from Ramon Hull's 
Doctrina Pueril into a Catalan translation of the Somme le Roi. 

^ Amer, Compendi historial de la Biblia, 197-207. 

^ Ibid., 197-200, 200-202. 

''* Ibid., 197, 199, 202. 

^ Ibid., 238-60. 

^* Kim, The Gospel of Nicodemus, 14. 

^ Amer, Compendi historial de la Biblia, 198. 

^ See Bohigas, "El repertori de manuscrits," 78-79; Rcim6n Miquel y Planas, 
Estudi histdrich y critich sobre la antiga novela catalana (Barcelona, 1912), 54-58. 



contains a highly compressed account of the Descent, possibly indebt- 
ed to EN A. Such compilations of abbreviated texts enjoyed consider- 
able vogue in the Middle Ages. 

At the close of the last century, Suchier pointed out a relationship 
between the translation of EN 12-27 in Lo Genesi and verses 965-2144 
of the CXrcitan poem Sens e razos d'una escriptura, based on the apocry- 
phal tradition B. That relationship may be illustrated by the following 
texts, relating Adam's response to Satan in EN 20.1: 


Audiebantque sancti dei 
contentionem satane et 
infemi. sed ipsi adhuc 
minime inter se recog- 
noscentes. nichilominiis 
erant cogniti. Sed sanctus 
pater noster adam. ita 
sathane respondens per 
omnia. Dux mortis quid 
formidas? Dominus ecce 
venit. qui omnia figmen- 
ta tua destruet. captus ab 
eo religatusque eris per 

Sens e razos 

Cantz Adam au la con- 
tenso / que fan essems li 
duy gloto, / dis al Satan 
en aut mot fort: / "O 
enemic, seynher de mort, 
/ que me enganiestz em 
deceupistz, / e paradis tu 
mi tolguistz, / puys m'a- 
duysistz en ta preyo, / 
cantz ieu fis la menesp- 
reyo, / enganatz iestz e 
deceuputz, / sempre 
seras tostz cofondutz. / 
Qui me formetz, ve ti 
que ve! / Per mi iestz 
mortz; que ayssi cove / 
que mi traga de ta pre- 
yo, / em menara a gue- 
rizo. / Enganatz iestz 
que m'enganiestz, / e 
cofundutz quem cofon- 
diestz. / Tu enemic em 
breu perdras / tota la 
forsa que tu as. / Morta 
es mortz, e vida vieu / et 
es tomada essom briu. / 
Per mortz es vida revis- 
cuda. / Tu mortz iestz 
tota cofonduda." 

Lo Gbiesi 

E quant Adam oy la con- 
tesa que lo diable havia 
ab Ir\fem, dix al diable a 
grans veus, molt esforsa- 
dament: "E tu, enemich, 
princep de mort, qui 
m'enguanest en paradis 
terrenal e puys metits- 
me en ta pres6 per tal 
com jo menyspres^ lo 
manament de nostro sen- 
yor passant-lo, e engua- 
nest-me, mas enguanat 
ser^s; e confimits-me, 
mas confus ser&s per tos- 
temps. Cor vet aquell 
quim form^, qui & per 
mi mort en la creu, e axi 
convenia feser fet, e 
traur^'m d'esta pres6 e 
menar m'ha en la gl6ria 
sua. E tu, enemich ma- 
leyt, vuy perts tot ton 
poder; que la mort 6s 
morta e la vida 6s viva, e 
per la mort 6s vida re- 
suscitada, e la mort per 
la vida 6s offegada."^ 

^ EN B is quoted from Gounelle, "Recherches sur le manuscrit CCCC 288," 
73; Sens e razx)s, w. 1819-40, from Suchier, Denkmaler; and Lo Gtnesi, from Amer, 
Compendi historial de la Biblia, 255. The spelling and punctuation of Amer's edition 
of U) Genesi have been systematized. 

(EN B: And the saints of God heard the contention between Satan and Hell, 
but they still hardly recognized one another; nevertheless they were known. But 
our holy father Adam emswered Satan in edl respects: Why are you terrified. 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 


Without a doubt. Sens e razos and Lo Genesi reflect the same version .of 
the EN. It is also clear that Sens e razos is not dependent on Lo Genesi, 
since the former translates the entire EN and the latter does not. The 
possibility of reverse dependence is also precluded by several textual 
differences, one of the most significant occurring in the passage to 
which I have already alluded when discussing the relationship be- 
tween the Catalan and Occitan versions of Lo Genesi. That passage 
occurs at EN 15.1, where Nicodemus adduces the example of Elijcih's 
ascension into paradise. Here are the relevant texts: 


Et sicut docet nos scrip- 
tura sacri libri. quia sanc- 
tus elyas assumptus est in 
celis. Et heliseus clamavit 
voce magna, et proiedt 
helias melotem suum. 
super helyseum. Et ite- 
rum helyseus projedt 
melotem ilium super 
iordanem. et transiit in 
ierico. et occurrenmt illi 
filii prophetaruni et dixe- 
runt ad heliseum. Ubi est 
dominus tuus Helias? et 
dixit quia assumptus est 

Sens e razos 

Que aysso nos mostra 
I'escrigz, / que Helyas si 
fon raubitz / et Helyzeu 
lo deu sirvens / cridet 
Payre, co no m'atens? / 
Tro flum Jorda ayssil 
seguetz; / aqui Helyas si 
gitetz / ad Helyzeyu pres 
so mantell, / et ell fes li 
pon bo e bell / sus en 
I'ayga si I'estendetz, / 
com per um pon desus 
passetz. / Pueys en apres 
tan lo segui, / tro que nol 
saup ni non lo vi, / et 

Lo Ghiesi 

Cor la scriptvu-a nos diu 
que Elies hy ser^ vist, e 
aquell cridava: "Elies, 
pare meu, nom vulles 
desemparar!" E sabem 
que git^ lo seu pali a 
Eliseu quant li demanava 
que romangu^ en la sua 
gr^cia. E dix-li Elies: "si 
tu pots veure que jo 
me'n vaja, ser^'t atorgat 
^o que demanes." E 
qucmt la nuu reb^ Elies, 
viu-lo Eliseu, e lavors 
crid<k: "pare meu, pare in 

prince of death? Behold, here comes the Lord who will destroy everything you 
have made. You wiU be captured by him and bound for ever.) 

{Sens e razos: When Adam heard tfie contention made between the two 
gluttons, he said to Satan loudly, raising his voice: "O enemy, lord of death, you 
who deceived me and stole paradise from me, and locked me in your prison 
when I committed the offence! You have been tricked and deceived, you will 
always be confounded. Oh, my Maker, I see you coming! For me you <ied; and 
so it is fitting that he release me from your prison and lead me to salvation. You 
who deceived me have been deceived; you who confounded me have been con- 
founded. You, enemy, wiU soon lose all the strength you have. Death is dead, and 
Life lives and has recovered its strength. Through death is Life restored; you, 
Eteath, have been completely confoimded.") 

{Lo Ghiesi: And when Adam heard the contention made between the devil 
emd Hell, he said to the devil, raising his voice, very loudly: "Hey you, enemy, 
prince of death, you who deceived me in the earthly paradise and then locked me 
up in your prison because I had despised the commandment of our Lord, 
transgressing it! You deceived me, but you will be deceived; and you confounded 
me, but you will be forever confounded. For, behold, here is my Maker, who has 
been killed on the cross for me, and thus must it be; and he wiU deliver me from 
this prison and will bring me to his glory. And you, damned enemy, today will 
lose all your power, for Death is dead and Life lives, and through death is Life 
resuscitated, and Death is conquered by Life.") 



celum. et dixerunt ad 
helyseum. Nunquid et 
preses [leg. spiritus] ra- 
puit eum; et proiecit eum 
in unum ex montibus 
sed magis tollamus pue- 
ros nostros nobiscvun. et 
requiramus. eum. Et con- 
firmavenint helyseum. et 
ibat cum illis. et quesie- 
runt eum tribus diebus 
noctibus. et [non] inve- 
nerunt eum. quoniam 
vere assumptus est. 

Helyzieu si fo marritz, / 
ayssi co nos retras I'esc- 
rigz, / et encontret si ab 
de gens. / Cil li deman- 
do belamens: / On es 
Helyas? Ell respon: / el 
eel s'en pojava amon. / 
Doncs dissero aquill 
trastugz: / esperitz I'a 
raubitz, som cugz, / el 
I'a pauzatz en un dels 
puegz, / aral quiyram, 
tro sia nuegz. / II lo 
quero motz tostz ades, / 
nol trobero ni luny ni 
pres. / Adoncs saupro 
que raubitz es, / em 
paradis Ten a dieus mes. 

meu". E ladonchs li git^ 
lo pali Elies, e hac Eliseu 
aytal gr^cia com hac 
Elies. E sabem que vin- 
gueren los fills dels pro- 
phetes, qui eren en 
aquella terra, a Eliseu, e 
demanaren-lo de per 
Elies, e cercaren-lo, tro 
que seberen que per cert 
que I'havia rebut la nuu, 
el posa en paradis terre- 

^ EN B is quoted from Govmelle, "Recherches sur le manuscrit CCCC 288," 
56-57; Sens e razos, w. 1215-40, from Suchier, Denkmiiler; and Lo Gtnesi, from 
Amer, Compendi historial de la Biblia, 243-44. 

(EN B: And as the Scriptures of the Holy Book teach us, holy Elijah was 
taken up into heaven. And Elisha cried out witti a loud voice, and Elijah cast his 
cloak upon Elisha. And again Elisha cast that cloak upon Jordiin and crossed into 
Jericho. And the sons of prophets met him and said to Elisha: Where is your lord 
Elijah? And he said that he was taken up into heaven. And they said to Elisha: 
Has the spirit not caught him up and thrown him upon one of the mountains? 
But rather let us take our boys with us and look for him. And they reassured 
Elisha, cind he went with them. And they sought him for three days [and] nights 
and [did not] find him because he was truly taken up.) 

{Sens e razos: Thus the Scripture demonstrates that Elijah was carried off, and 
his servant Elisha cried: "Father, why do you not wait for me?" He followed him 
in this way to the river Jordan. Here Elijah threw his mantle to Elisha, and it 
became a good bridge to him: he spread it over the waters and passed over it as 
he would over a bridge. Then he continued to follow him until he lost sight of 
him, and Elisha grieved, as the Scripture tells us. And he met some people; they 
asked him courteously, "Where is Elijah?" He replied, "He was raised into the 
sky." So the people said, "A spirit has carried him off, I so believe, and has set 
him on a mountain; let us look for him until the night comes." They searched for 
him far and wide, but they could not find him. So they learned that he has been 
carried off, and God has put him in paradise.) 

(Lo Ger^si: Thus the Scripture tells us that Elijcih will be seen this way, and 
he cried: "Elijtih, my father, do not abamdon me!" And we know that he threw 
his mantle to Elisha when he asked him to remain in his grace. And Elijah said 
to him: "If you can see how I leave, you will receive what you ask for." And 
when the cloud took Elijah, Elisha saw it, and so he cried: "My father, my 
father." And so Elijah threw his mantle to him, and Elisha received as much 
grace as Elijah had. And we know that the sons of the prophets who were in the 
land Ccime to Elisha, and they asked him about EUjah, and they looked for him 
until they became convinced that a cloud had taken Elijah and set him in the 
earthly paradise.) 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 159 

Sens e razos follows here the text of the EN very closely, but the saijie 
cannot be said of Lo Genesi, which gives at this point one of its most 
problematic passages, varying from manuscript to manuscript. Howev- 
er, Lo Genesi preserves at least one characteristic of the Latin text that 
does not appear in Sens e razos: in both the EN and Lo Genesi Elisha 
meets the "sons of the prophets" ("filii prophetanmi," "los fills dels 
prophetes"), while in Sens e razos he meets unspecified "people" 
("encontret si ab de gent," "he met some people"). Lo Genesi carmot, 
therefore, be directly dependent on the Occitan poem, and its author 
must have had direct access to the textual tradition of the EN. To 
account for the general correspondences between Sens e razos and Lo 
Genesi one might postulate, with Suchier,^^ that the two shared a com- 
mon source text of the EN, which each author treated with some 
degree of freedom. 

Another textual problem in Lo Genesi, which will also surface in 
Gamaliel, is connected with Leucius and Carinus, the two characters 
brought back to life who recount the Harrowing of Hell. In Lo Genesi, 
they appear as "Alexandri" and "Rufo," assuming the names of the 
sons of Simon of Cyrene, according to the Historia scholastica. It should 
be noted that neither EN B nor Sens e razos mentions the father of Leu- 
cius and Carinus, who in EN A is identified as Simeon. The onomastic 
changes in Lo Genesi may, perhaps, be partly explained by variability 
in the spelling of the names of the two revived chcuracters in the Occi- 
tan poem and by the association of one of those spellings ("le nsimon," 
V. 1556) with Simon of Cyrene.*^ 

(b) Gamaliel 

Gamaliel is a narrative of the trial, death, and Resurrection of Jesus 
Christ, in which Nicodemus and his uncle, Gamaliel, are among the 
principal characters. Gamaliel, a teacher of law and a member of the 
Jewish council, not only plays an important part in the story but is also 
its narrator. The text arose from the confluence of various traditions 
associating Nicodemus with Gamaliel and from the interaction of those 
traditions with the EN, supposedly written by Nicodemus. Nicodemus 
and Gamzdiel, nephew and uncle, appear together in the legend of the 
finding of the relics of St. Stephen — it was they who buried St. Ste- 
phen, and their bodies were discovered lying beside him. This legend 
and the widespread cult of St. Stephen account for the popularity of 
Nicodemus and Gamaliel in Catalonia and Occitania. The prose Gama- 

*' Suchier, Denkmiiler, 506-8. 
•^ Ibid., 508. 


liel, presenting a new version of the trial before Pilate with a special 
focus on those two familiar characters, met with wide acceptance in 
France, Occitania, and the Kingdom of Aragon: it survives in fourteen 
French, three Occitan, and two Catalan manuscripts.*^ The text was 
printed frequently during the latter part of the fifteenth century and 
the first thirty years of the sixteenth; it was also translated from Cata- 
lan into Castilian (1522) and into Latin (1525) by Juan de Molina.** 
The Occitan manuscripts of Gamaliel include: 

A Paris, BN MS. fr. 1919; saec. XV.*^ 

B Paris, BN MS. fr. 24945, fols. 92-126; saec. XV (olim St. Victor 

C Rodez, Bibliotheque municipale MS. 60, fols. 48-98; saec. XV.*^ 

The two Catalan manuscripts are: 

A Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana MS. Reg, 2056; 

written in 1454. 
B Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya MS. 325; saec. XVQI (a 

copy of a fifteenth-century manuscript). 

Madaleine Le Merrer argues, on the basis of the oldest French 
manuscript (Grenoble, Bibliotheque municipale MS. 468, ol. 50; saec. 
XTV) and the Occitan MS. B, in favor of the precedence of the Occitan 
version over the French.** Numerous corrupt readings of the French 
text corroborate this opinion, accepted also by G. Hasenohr.*' The 
Catalan recension is, in all probability, also related to the Occitan and 
not to the French, as it does not share the erroneous readings of the latter. 

^ The small number of Catalan manuscripts is compensated for by numerous 
references to Gamaliel in medieval inventories of manuscripts, which clearly show 
that the text was well known in CatJilonia. 

^ The incimabulum is described by J. Ribelles Comin, Bibliografia de la lengua 
valenciana (Madrid: Tipografia de la Revista de Archives, Bibliotecas y Museos, 
1929), 1:450-57, and the 1510 edition by F. J. Norton, A Descriptive Catalogue of 
Printing in Spain and Portugal 1501-1520 (Cambridge: University Press, 1978), 72. 

®^ Brunei, Bibliographie, no. 158. 

^ See ibid., no. 197, and Meyer, "La Traduction proven^ale de la Ugende 
doree," Romania 17 (1898): 129. 

^ Brunei, Bibliographie, no. 262; idem, "Notice du ms. 60 de la Bibliotheque de 
la Ville de Rodez," Bibliotheque de I'tcole des chartes 94 (1933): 1. 

^ Madeleine Le Merrer, "D'une sovu-ce narrative occitahe de la Passion 
proven<;ale et des mystferes rouergats: I'tvangile de Gamaliel," in La Vie thiitrale 
dans les provinces du Midi, Actes du Ik colloque de Grasse, 1976 (Tiibingen: Y. 
Giraud, 1980), 47-48. 

*' Genevieve Hasenohr, "A propos de la Vie de Nostre Benoit Saulveur Jhesus 
Crist," Romania 102 (1981): 378. 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 161 

That an originally Occitan text should be so widely diffused in 
French translations is not surprising: Gamaliel may serve as an illustra- 
tion of the process of linguistic substitution under way in Occitania in 
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries which caused a slow abandon- 
ment of texts written in Occitan in favor of those in French. A text 
composed in Occitan and subsequently translated into French con- 
tinued to be read by Occitan speakers in French. 

The principal source of Gamaliel was the Occitan poem Sens e razos 
d'una escriptura. It may be instructive to compare the following passage 
from Gamaliel with the excerpts dted above on p. 156: 

E quant Adam ohi la veu de Jesuchrist en infem, comen^a a 
tremolar de pahor que hac de la gran contesa que infem avia 
de Jesuchrist, e comen^^ a cridar altament dient: "Ay enemich 
e senyor de mort! tu m'enganist, em de^ebist, e de paradis me 
getist, e puys me metist en ta preso, quant me aguist fet fallir 
contra lo manament que m'avia donat aquell quim forma: e 
tu m'enganist, e est de^ebut, e enganat e confiis. Vet que 
aquell quim form^ per mi es mort, car axi convenia per qudm 
gitas de ta preso! Ay enemich, perduda has ta forga e ton 
poder! Morta es mort, e vida viu, e es venguda per aquell que 
nos avem ohit."^ 

(And when Adam heard the voice of Jesus Christ in hell, he 
started to tremble, fearing the great struggle between hell and 
Jesus Christ, and he started to cry loudly, saying, "Alas, 
enemy and lord of death! You misled me and deceived me 
and threw me out of paradise, and then you locked me up in 
your prison after you made me break the commandment that 
my Maker had given me. And you misled me, and you have 
been deceived and confused. Now my Maker has died for me, 
for thus by necessity you cast me out of your prison! Alas, 
enemy, you have lost your strength and your power! Death is 
dead, and Life lives, and it has come about through him 
whom we have heard.") 

This passage is almost identical with the corresponding sections of 
both Lo Genesi and Sens e razDS and, without further evidence, could 
easily be derived from either. However, in the following fragment — to 
be compared with the texts on pp. 157-58 — Gamaliel dearly follows the 
Ocdtan poem, moving away from the Catalan chronide: 

^ Pedro Armengol Valenzuela, ed., Obras de S. Pedro Pascual, Mdrtir, obispo de 
Jaen y religiose de la Merced, vol. 1, Nueoe leyendas o contemplaciones, el Libro de 
Gamaliel, la Destruccid de Jerusalem (Rome: F. Cuggiani, 1905), 145. 1 have system- 
atized the sjjelling and punctuation of Armengol's edition. 


Car nos trobam en nostra scriptura que Elias rabi que ell e un 
de SOS dexebles, li dix: "pare, com nol sperats?" E seguit-lo 
entro al flum Jorda, e aqui Elias gita son mantell sobre I'aygua 
e ana desiis lo mantell axi com per un pont, e seguil tant fins 
que nol poch pus veure; e quant I'hac perdut de vista los 
juheus foren fort irats. E isque de I'aygua e encontra's ab 
gents, que demanaren on era Elias, e los jueus respongueren 
que sus al eel se n'era pujat; e lavors digueren: "creem be que 
spirits I'agen pres, e que I'agen posat sobre qualque puig." E 
anaren-lo sercar per les montanyes e per les vails, e nol po- 
gueren trobar; e lavors arbitraren-se que pres era stat, e que 
Deu I'avia mes en paradis, e que axi ho trobaven en scrit.'^ 

(Because we find in our Scripture that rabbi Elijah, that he and 
one of his disciples, he said, "Father, why do you not wait for 
him?" And he followed him to the river Jordan, and here 
Elijah threw his mantle over the water, and he walked over 
the mantle as over a bridge, and he followed him until he 
could see him no more; and when he lost sight of him, the 
Jews became very angry. And he went away from the water, 
and he met some people who asked where Elijah was, and the 
Jews answered that he had risen up into the sky. And so they 
said, "We believe that spirits have carried him away and set 
him on some mountain." And they went to search for him 
through the mountains and valleys, and they could not find 
him; and so they considered that he had been carried away, 
and that God had placed him in paradise, and that thus they 
found it written.) 

In spite of the obvious proximity of this passage to the text of Sens e 
razos, certain details pose, as in Lo Genesi, problems of textual transmis- 
sion. The text of EN B, "quia sanctus elyas assumptus est in cells et 
heliseus clamavit . . . ," correctly translated in Sens e razos as "que 
Helyas si fon raubitz et Helyzeu lo sieu sirver\s cridet . . . ," appears in 
Gamaliel as "que Elias rabi que ell e un de sos dexebles li dix" (note 
the parallel between "raubitz" and "rabi"); Lo Genesi renders the same 
clauses as "que Elies hy sera vist, e aquell cridava." The omission of 
Elisha's name in Gamaliel and Lo Genesi results in faulty sentences and 
incomplete sense. Another problematic detail in Gamaliel is the identity 
of Leucius and Carinus's father: his name appears as "Fulli" in the 
Catalan version and "Ruben" or "Simeon" in French texts (in Sens e 
razos he is not named at all). Problems such as these highlight the 

Ibid., 150. 

Medieval Catalan and Occitan Literatures 163 

complex nature of the relationships among the three vernacular texts 
and urge a thorough study of their textual background to dispel the air 
of uncertainty and controversy that still hangs about them. 

One other textual feature of Gamaliel deserves notice as it relates to 
the EN and possibly to another related text the presence of a character 
named Jafel de Jaffa (or Japhet de Casse in the French versions). Jafel 
is invited by the council of the Jews to produce three credible wit- 
nesses to confirm the truthfulness of the testimonies concerning 
Christ's divinity. The three witnesses he brings forth are named 
Abraam, Ruben, and Jacob; they appear after the account of the De- 
scent into Hell and adapt the testimonies of Addam, Finees, and Legias 
as related in EN B 14.1.*^ The character of Jafel appears also in an 
important and widely disseminated Romance work. La Destruccio de 
Jerusalem.^^ Since he does not appear in any other religious or didactic 
work known to me, there may be some link between this work and 
Gamaliel; an in-depth study of the relationship between Gamaliel and La 
Destruccio de Jerusalem might, therefore, throw some new light on both 

5. Conclusion 

One of the reasons for the EN's success during the Middle Ages was, 
doubtless, its testimony to an otherwise poorly attested article of faith, 
the Descent of Christ into Hell. However, most references to the 
Descent in Catalan and Occitan works are not based directly on the 
apocryphal Descensus Christi ad inferos, which was the ultimate rather 
than the immediate source. Catalan and Occitan writers of the late 
Middle Ages usually owed their knowledge of the matter of the EN to 
the Legenda aurea and the Speculum historiale. Also, the tradition of 
Franciscan spirituality encouraged — through the exaniples of works 
such as the Meditationes vitae Christi and the Meditationes de passione 
Christi — affective and meditative reshapings of the narrative elements 
of the EN. 

^ Ibid., 157-62. 

'^ See C. Chabaneau, "La Prise de Jerusalem ou la vengeance du sauveur," 
Revue des langues romanes 32 (1888): 581-608; 33 (1889): 31-46, 600-609; Josep 
Hemcindo i Delgado, ed., "La destrucd6 de Jerusalem. La venjanija que feu de la 
mort de Jesuchrist Vespesi^ e Titus son fill," in MiscelUinia de textos medievals 5 
(1989): 1-116; Alvin E. Ford, ed.. La Vengeance de Nostre-Seigneur. The Old and Mid- 
dle French Prose Versions: the Version ofjapheth. Studies and Texts, vol. 63 (Toronto: 
Pontificcd Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1984). 


Nevertheless, through its successive transformations and adapta- 
tions, such as those discussed in this essay, the EN exerted strong 
influence on Catalan and Occitan literatures. Without its inspiration, 
mediated by those textual refashionings so extensively diffused in the 
fifteenth century, Sor Isabel de Villena (b. 1430, d. 1490) would have 
been unable to add to her Vita Christi one of the most effective elabora- 
tions of the theme of the Descent in late medieval Catalan literature.'^ 
She devotes almost one hundred and eighty pages to the glorification 
of Christ's victory over death and relates in detail Christ's reception of 
the saints with full courtly splendor and grand speeches and the final 
procession to paradise. 

Translated by Josep Izquierdo 
and Zbigruew Izydorczyk 

** Isabel de Villena, Vita Christi, ed. Ramdn Miquel i Planas (Barcelona: Biblio- 
teca Catalana, 1916), 3:5-182. 

The Gospel ofNicodemus in 
Medieval Italian Literature: 
A Preliminary Assessment^ 


i ^^^ he Evangelium Nicodemi (EN) consists of two rather loosely con- 
^•^lJ^ joined parts: the first gives an account of Christ's trial. Passion, 
V^ and Resurrection, with the story of Joseph of Arimathea woven 
into the narrative {Gesta Pilati); the second relates Christ's Descent into 
the underworld {Descensus Christi ad inferos)} Although the work 
never gained the status of a canonical gospel, it enjoyed great authority 
and prestige in the Middle Ages. For instance, in the e«irly thirteenth 
century, Vincent of Beauvais justified his summary of it in his widely 
read Speculum by stating that "some works are considered apocrypha 
because they are contrary to truth . . . others simply because their 
authors are unknown, although they contain pure truth." The Evange- 
lium Nicodemi, Vincent suggests, belongs to the latter category.^ 

^ This essay is a revised version of 'The Gospel ofNicodemus in Medieval Ital- 
ian Literature," which appeared in Quademi d'italianistica 14, no. 2 (1993): 191-220. 

^ The standard edition of the Ezmngelium Nicodemi is that in Constantinus de 
Tischendorf, ed., Exxingelia apocrypha, 2d rev. ed. (1876; repr., Hildesheim: 
G. Olms, 1966), 333-434. All my references are to chapter eind paragraph numbers 
of this edition unless otherwise stated. 

^ Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum naturale, Prologus (1624; repr., Graz: Aka- 
demische Druck- vmd Verlagsanstalt, 1964), col. 8: "Quaedam enim reputantur 
Apocrypha, quia veritati aduersantur, vt sunt libri haereticorun\. Quaedam vero, 
quia auctores eorum ignorantur, licet puram veritatem contineant, vt est Euange- 
lium Nazaraeorum." In the Middle Ages, the Evangelium Nicodemi was known by 
a variety of names, including ExHingelium Nazaraeorum, which Vincent uses in the 
Speculum naturale. In the Speculum historiale, on the other hand, he repeatedly calls 
the work Evangelium Nicodemi. See, for example. Speculum historiale, bk. 7, chap. 40 
(1624; repr., Graz: Akademische Ehmck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1965), 236. The popu- 
larity of Vincent's encyclopedia probably contributed to the wide dissemination 
of this title — Evangelium Nicodemi — ^whidi became the most common way of re- 
fierring to the apocryphon in tiie later Middle Ages. 


The pseudo-gospel's immense popularity stemmed precisely from 
the fact that it added further iiiformation to the canorucal accour\ts of 
Christ's death and Resurrection, and spelled out in great detail a 
story — Christ's Harrowing of Hell — ^which was only vaguely alluded 
to in the Old and New Testaments. The story of Christ's Descent into 
Hell and defeat of the forces of evil captivated the medieval mind. 
Although the Gospel of Nicodemus (GN) was not the only source of the 
Harrowing story, it was certainly the most dramatic and influential 
version of it. 

The Harrowing of Hell has, of course, long been an object of 
intense study, yet its major source, the GN, has only recently begun to 
attract sustained scholarly interest. Much of the attention has focused 
on the origin, dissemination, and textual characteristics of the Latin 
version, or rather versions, of the apocryphon.^ However, as the 
essays in this volume indicate, its interaction with various medieval 
European literatures has not been entirely neglected. In addition, new 
medieval translations have recently been discovered and some have 
been published.^ 

Despite lively critical discussion of the GN, its presence in and 
impact on medieval Italian literature remain almost completely unex- 
plored. My preliminary research on the subject indicates that the 
apocryphon was widely known in Italy, not only in its Latin versions, 
but also in several Italian translations. The manuscript tradition testi- 
fies to this. Moreover, from the second half of the thirteenth century 
on, its influence is seen repeatedly in longer literary and quasi-literary 
works and echoed in countless shorter compositions. In this essay I 
shall provide a preliminary assessment of the situation, indicating 
areas which deserve further exploration. 

Because of a dearth of critical literature on the subject, research 
must be based almost exclusively on primary sources, many of which 

* Zbigniew Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangeliutn Nicodetni," Manuscripta 
33 (1989): 169-91, and idem. Manuscripts of the "Evangelium Nicodetni": A Census, 
Subsidia Mediaevalia, vol. 21 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 

^ See, for example, Alvin Ford, ed., L'tvangile de Nicodbne: Les Versions courtes 
en ancien frangais et en prose, Publications romanes et fran^aises, vol. 125 (Geneva: 
Droz, 1973); C. William Marx and Jeanne F. Drennan, eds.. The Middle English 
Prose Complaint of Our Lady and Gospel of Nicodemus, Middle English Texts, vol. 19 
(Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1987); Achim Masser, ed., Dat ewangelium Nicodemi van 
deme lidende vnses heren Ihesu Christi: Zwei mittelniederdeutsche Fassungen, Texte des 
spaten Mittelalters und der friihen Neuzeit, vol. 29 (Berlin: E. Schmidt, 1978); and 
Achim Masser amd Max Siller, eds.. Das Evangelium Nicodemi in spatmittelalterlicher 
deutscher Prosa: Texte, Germamische Bibliothek, 4th ser., Texte imd Kommentar 
(Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1987). 

Medieval Italian Literature 167 

are unpublished. This is certainly true of the Italian translations of the 
EN. Of the dozen or more known to me, only two have actually been 
published, both in rare nineteenth-century editions with little or no 
critical apparatus. There are probably more early Italian translations 
waiting to be discovered. One of the problems in tracking them down 
is that the Italian versions of the apocryphon, like the Latin, appear 
imder different names. In addition to the many variations on // vangelo 
di Nicodemo, they can be called Storia delta passione di Yhesu Christo, La 
passion del nostra Signor Giesu Christo, and Passio di Nicodemo, to name 
just a few examples. These translations must be carefully studied to 
ascertain the date and place of composition, and, if possible, the 
identity of the trai\slator and/or scribe, in order to reconstruct the 
cultural context in which each translation was executed, and to deter- 
mine its sphere of influence. It appears that most of the translations are 
in Tuscan, but at least two were rendered into Venetian. One of these, 
contained in a rather late manuscript, written by a certain "Dominicus 
filius nobilis viri Nicolai de Cartrano" in 1465, seems to have been 
made from a Tuscan original.^ 

It is also important to establish which Latin form of the text each 
Italian translation is based on. As is well known, there are at least two 
major manuscript traditions of the Latin text, which scholars refer to as 
EN A and B. The two diverge in many ways. For instance, the Descen- 
sus C} risti ad inferos of the B text is somewhat shorter and differs from 
its m ore common counterpart in selection, arrangement, and wording. 
The B text also has no meeting with Enoch and Elias, an episode which 
occupies chapter 25 of the A text. Of the two published Italian ver- 
sions, one is based on the Latin text A, the other on B. II Passio o 
Vangelo di Nicodemo was published in 1862 by Cesare Guasti in the 
"Scelta di curiosita letterarie inedite o rare" series, from a fifteenth- 
century manuscript owned by Giuseppe Ceppi of Prato.'^ It closely 
follows EN A until chapter 20, when it breaks off abruptly in the 
middle of the speech in which Hell points out to Satan the special 
nature of Christ's salvific power. The man who is about to descend 
into hell has, through the power of his Word, already rescued several 
souls from his realm, including Lazarus. Indeed, the text ends just 
before the mention of the revival of Lazarus's lifeless body. 

Some twenty years later, in 1883, Hermann Suchier published El 

* See Ginlio Porro, Catalogo dei codici manoscritti della Trivulziana (Turin: 
Fratelli Bocca, 1884), 190, and Caterina Santoro, / codici medioevali della Biblioteca 
Trivulziana (Milan: Biblioteca Trivulziana, 1965), 123. 

^ Cesare Guasti, ed., // Passio o Vangelo di Nicodemo, volgarizmto nel buon secolo 
della lingua, e non maifin qui stampato, Scelta di curiosity litterarie inedite o rare dal 
secolo Xm al XIX, vol. 12 (Bologna: Romagnoli, 1862). 


Vangielo di Nicchodemo from Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS. 1362 
(formerly P. IQ. 14), as an appendix in Denkmaler provenzalischer Literatur 
und Sprache.^ This translation in prose contair\s the last five chapters 
(12 to 16) of the Gesta Pilati and all eleven chapters (17-27) of the B text 
of the Descensus Christi ad inferos, although this material has been 
condensed somewhat. In other words, it focuses on the story of Joseph 
of Arimathea, which unfolds principally in the last chapters of the 
Gesta, and the Harrowing of Hell. Suchier associates this Italian transla- 
tion with several Provencal and Catalan prose versions of the EN, 
which are similarly abridged.^ Moreover, he suggests that these may 
in turn depend on a complete Provencal verse translation of the 
apocryphon.^° Whatever the case, there is absolutely no doubt that 
the ultimate source for all these vernacular renderings is EN B. 

The cluster of texts published by Suchier — ^Proven^al, Catalan, and 
Italian — illustrates the d)niamic and productive quality of the EN. 
Neither geography nor language could constrain it, nor could its status 
as a quasi-sacred text prevent it from being altered in its passage from 
one language to another. The Italian trar\slation differs from the B text, 
and, in some cases, from its Provencal and Catalan counterparts in a 
couple of interesting ways. 

The Archangel Gabriel replaces Michael as the "keeper of para- 
dise" in the episode in which Adam sends his son Seth to ask for the 
"oil of mercy" to anoint his sick body (chap. 20 in the B text). This 
seems an odd substitution. Michael's role in casting out the great 
dragon, "he whom we call the devil or Satan," from heaven (Rv. 12:7-9) 
would seem to make him a more appropriate choice. Indeed, in the A 
text Michael is given an even more prominent role: in addition to this 
episode (chap. 19.1), he also appears in several other scenes (chaps. 
25.1; 27.1-2; 28.3-4, etc.). Perhaps the change was suggested by the 
prophetic nature of the angelic words spoken to Seth. I quote from the 
Italian translation (chap. 20.3): "L'angiolo Gabriello allora mi disse: Set, 
tu adomandi olio di misericordia per ugniere tuo padre, e ancora non 
6 tenpo, ma verra tenpo ch'egli n'ar^" ("Then the Angel Gabriel said 
to me: Seth, you ask for the oil of mercy to anoint your father; the time 
has not yet come, but the time will come for him to have it"). It is 
worth noting that of the texts published by Suchier, the Italian is the 
only one which puts forward Gabriel. The Provencal verse translation 

^ Hermann Suchier, ed., Denkmaler provenzalischer Literatur und Sprache, vol. 1 
(Halle: Niemeyer, 1883), 573^8. Cf. the comments on Lo Gtnesihy Josep Izquierdo, 
earlier in this volume, pp. 152-59. 

' Suchier, Denkmaler, 387-461. 

'" Ibid., 1-84; notes on 481-515. 

Medieval Italian Literature 169 

remains completely faithful to the B text and retains Michael. In .the 
shorter Provencal and Catalan prose versions, the heavenly figure is 
imnamed, referred to simply as "I'angel" or "I'angel Chenibin." 

The second deviation is even more intriguing and may actually be 
an attempt to make the work conform more closely to the canonical 
account. It deals with the two non-biblical figures who are freed from 
hell by Christ along with the patriarchs and who are entrusted with 
the important task of bearing witness to the event. Each writes his own 
account, independently of the other. The two stories match perfectly. 
Their textual adventure is not quite as seamless. 

In the Greek Descensus, these two figures are not named; they are 
simply identified as the sons of Simeon. The Simeon in question is the 
one in Luke 2:25-35, who received the child Jesus in his arms in the 
temple. There is no indication in this passage or elsewhere that he had 
sons. Elements of the Luke episode and Simeon himself are also 
recalled in the last chapter of all the various versions of the Gesta Pilati. 
In the Latin A text of the Descensus, the sons of Simeon are given the 
names of Karinus and Leucius. In the B text they are also called 
Karinus and Leucius but are no longer lirJced to Simeon, who is not 
mentioned. Commentators are uncertain about the origin of these 
names but usually conclude that they "are somehow connected with 
Leukios Charinos, the Gnostic author of the Acts of John."^^ 

In our Italian text, Karinus and Leucius became "Allexandro e 
Ruffo, figliuoli di Simone Cireneo" (chap. 17.1; "Alexander and Rufus, 
the sons of Simon of Cyrene"). The Simeon of Luke 2:25-35 is still 
present in chapter 16.1 (i.e., the last chapter of the Gesta), but in the 
very next chapter (the first of the Descensus) his place is usurped by 
Simon of Cyrene, the man who was compelled to carry Jesus' cross, 
according to several gospel passages (Lk. 23:26, Mt. 27:32, and Mk. 
15:21). In the passage from Mark, he is identified as "the father of 
Alexander and Rufus." Simon of Cyrene and his sons do not normally 
figure as characters in the Latin versions of the apocryphon, but they 
do make a brief appearance in the expanded chapter 10 of the Greek 
recension B of the Gesta Pilati. It is interesting to note that the Greek 
Descensus always follows this version of the Gesta, which is rather late, 
no manuscript containing it being older than the fourteenth century. 
Chapter 10 deals with Christ's Crucifixion and death, and in the longer 

" Felix Scheidweiler, "The Gospel of Nicodemus," in New Testament Apocry- 
pha, vol. 1, Gospels and Related Writings, ed. Edgar Hennecke, English trans, ed. 
R. McL. Wilson (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), 476; cf. Montague Rhodes 
James, The Apocryphal New Testament (1924; repr., Oxford: Clcirendon Press, 1975), 
95, and Mario Erbetta, ed., Gli apocrifi del Niwvo Testamento, vol. 1, pt. 2, Vangeli: 
Infanzia e passione di Cristo. Assunzione di Maria (Turin: Marietti, 1981), 237. 


Greek version, Mark 15-21 is simply appropriated, without altering in 
any way the roles of the characters. How Alexander and Rufus came 
to supplant Karinus and Leucius in our Italian text is an interesting 
question but one which is impossible to answer definitively on the 
basis of the evidence at hand. On the other hand, their presence does 
seem to confirm the close affiliation between our Italian text and the 
abridged prose Provencal and Catalan versions of the apocryphon in 
which Alexander and Rufus also prevail. In this case too the Provengal 
verse trar\slation remains faithful to the Latin B text. I have lingered 
over these two peculiar details because traces of them can be seen 
in some Italian adaptations of the work, which I shall discuss in a 

The diffusion of these translations remains to be determined, but 
one thing is certain: the GN, whether in Latin or in Italian, left its mark 
on a wide range of Italian texts, from laude and sacre rappresentazioni to 
religious cantari and sermons. To be sure, this mark is sometimes faint, 
discernible only through the filter of a number of other texts: it is not 
always possible in brief allusions to a GN theme to cite the apocryphon 
as the immediate or sole source. Much of the Gesta Pilati is a reworking 
of materials in the canonical gospels. As for the Descensus Christi ad 
inferos, although it was the most influential source for the Harrowing 
theme, there were other accounts, such as the pseudo-Augustine 
sermon "De pascha II," which also circulated freely in the Middle 
Ages.^^ Moreover, in the early thirteenth century, Vincent of Beauvais 
summarized the EN in his widely read Speculum historiale (bk. 7, chaps. 
40-63). Later in that century. Jacobus a Voragine epitomized the apoc- 
rjrphon in his equally successful Legenda aurea (chap. 54).^^ Some of 
the EN's content also found its way in a less systematic fashion into 
the extremely popular early fourteenth-century Meditationes vitae Christi 
(esp. chaps. 80-89), once attributed to Saint Bonaventure.^'* In this 
light, it is obvious that unless there is a specific verbal echo, philolog- 
ically demonstrable, or unless the structural imprint of the apocryphon 
is sufficiently clear, many passages from medieval Italian texts evoking 
characters, images, or scenes from the EN cannot defiiutively be 
attributed to it. What can be said of these passages with a degree of 
certainty is that their authors were probably familiar with a constella- 
tion of texts which, in addition to the EN, included the Legenda aurea 

'^ Pseudo- Augustine, "Sermo 160. De pascha 11," PL 39:2059-61. 

" Jacobus a Voragine, Jacobi a Voragine Legenda aurea vulgo Historia Lombardica 
dicta, ed. Th. Graesse (1890; repr., Osnabriick: O. Zeller, 1969). 

" Pseudo-Bonaventure, Meditationes vitae Christi, in S. R. E. Cardinalis Bormven- 
turae . . . Opera omnia, ed. A. C. Peltier, vol. 12 (Paris: L. Viv^s, 1864), 509-630. 

Medieval Italian Literature 171 

and later the pseudo-Bonaventurian Meditationes vitae Christi. The lajtter 
work was especially influential: quickly translated into Italian, it cir- 
culated widely. Indeed, one of the oldest manuscripts (second half of 
the fourteenth century) containing the Italian Meditationes also includes, 
immediately following, an Italian version of the EN (Florence, Biblio- 
teca Riccardiana, MS. 1286).^^ With this caveat in mind, let us now 
turn to some medieval Italian texts which were, directly or indirectly, 
touched by the GN. 

As I have already indicated, the Gesta Pilati retells, and in some 
cases expands, several episodes in the canonical gospels dealing with 
the trial. Passion, and Resurrection of Christ. The most important of 
the amplified episodes is that of Joseph of Arimathea, whose story 
comes to the fore in the last chapters of the Gesta. But there are other 
such altered episodes which also proved to be extremely popular. 
Among them are the episode of the two Thieves (chap. 10.1-2; cf. Mt. 
27:38, Mk. 15:27, but especially Lk. 23:32-44) and that of the soldier 
who pierces Christ's side with a spear (chap. 16.4; cf. Jn. 19:34). In both 
cases the Gesta's major elaboration consists in naming the characters, 
who are left anonymous in the canonical gospels. Jacobus a Voragine 
specifically notes this fact with reference to the two Thieves: ". . . unus 
conversus, scilicet Dismas, qui erat a dextris, sicut dicitur in evangelio 
Nicodemi, et alius damnatus, scilicet Gesmas, qui erat a siiustris" 
(". . . one of them, Dismas, who was crucified at Christ's right side, was 
converted, as we read in the Gospel of Nicodemus, and the other, 
Gesmas, on the left side, was condemned").^^ 

The soldier who wounds Christ on the cross seems also to have 
been identified for the first time in the Gesta. He is called Longinus. 
Erbetta notes, "II nome Longino, noto pure dalla lettera di Pilato a 
Erode, deriva forse dall'assonanza con il greco lonche = lancia" ("The 
name Longinus, known also from the letter of Pilate to Herod, derives 
perhaps from the assonance with the Greek word lonche meaning 
spear").^^ The episode is recalled fleetingly in the last chapter of the 
Gesta (16.4): "et lancea latus eius perforavit Longinus miles" ("and 
Longinus the soldier pierced his side with a spear"), but in some Latin 
manuscripts it is also referred to earlier, in chapter 10.1: "Accipiens 
autem Longinus miles lanceam aperuit latus eius, et continuo exivit 

" See Salomone Morpurgo, / manoscritti delta R. Biblioteca Riccardiana di 
Firenze, vol. 1 (Rome: n.p., 1900), 345-46, and Arrigo Levasti, ed., Mistici del 
Duecento e del Trecento (MUan: Rizzoli, 1935), 997-99. 

'* Jacobus a Voragine, Legenda aurea, chap. 53. For the translation, see Jacobus 
de Voragine, The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, trans. William Granger 
Ryan (E*rinceton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 1:203. 

" Erbetta, Gli apocrifi, 255 n. 76. 


sanguis et aqua" ("Taking the spear, the soldier Longinus opened his 
side, and immediately blood and water flowed out").^* However, 
Longinus's adventures do not end here. Apparently he repented of his 
deed, converted to Christianity, and died a saint. His full story is told 
by Jacobus a Voragine in the Legenda aurea (chap. 47; cf. Vincent of 
Beauvais, Speculum historiale, bk. 7, chap. 47). A capsule version of it 
also appears in the Meditationes vitae Christi: "Unus autem, Longinus 
nomine, tunc impius et superbus, sed post conversus, et martyr et 
sanctus, porrigens lanceam de longe, eorum preces et rogamina con- 
temnens, latus Domini Jesu dextrum vulnere grandi aperuit, et exivit 
sanguis et aqua" (chap. 80; "And one called Longinus, who was then 
wicked and proud but later converted and became a martyr and a 
saint, extended a spear from afar, and, ignoring their prayers and 
entreaties, he opened a large wound on his right side from which 
blood and water poured out"). 

References to Longinus abound in medieval Italian literature, in 
both religious and nonreligious texts. For example, he manages to 
make his way into such diverse texts as a canzone by the Florentine 
poet Pacino Angiulieri lamenting the death of his beloved,^' an enter- 
tairung parody of the Passion by Ruggieri Apugliese in which he 
represents himself as being falsely accused and crucified by the Sienese 
ecclesiastical authorities,^" and Uguccione da Lodi's // Libro (w. 219- 
21), a long didactic poem about sin, punishment, and repentance.^^ 
His cruel act is also recalled in the Passione lombarda (w. 164-65), a 
significant early lauda^ a genre of religious poetry which I shall 
return to in a moment. I have purposely limited myself to thirteenth- 
century texts. Longinus's presence in subsequent centuries is so perva- 
sive, especially in laude, that to track him further would be pointless. 
Just one more example, this one from a fourteenth-century collection of 
laude from Cortona,^ a small city in Umbria which produced a large 
number of them, including some of the earliest examples of the genre. 
There are no traces of the EN in the earliest of these, contained in a 
thirteenth-century manuscript, but several in the later collection 
mentioned above.^^ The Longinus episode is evoked in five separate 

'* See Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha, 362. 

'' Gianfranco Contini, ed., Poeti del Duecento, vol. 1 (Milan: Ricdardi, 1960), 

2° Ibid., 402-6. 

2' Ibid., 597-624. 

" Giorgio Varanini, ed., Laude dugentesche (Padua: Antenore, 1972), 107-20. 

^ Giorgio Varanini, Luigi Banfi, and Anna Ceruti Burgio, eds., Laude cortonesi 
del secolo XIII al XV, 4 vols. (Horence: Olschki, 1981-85). 

^* These are contained in vol. 2 of Laude cortonesi, edited by Anna Ceruti Burgio. 

Medieval Italian Literature 173 

lauded and on two occasions his name is actually mentioned.^^ The 
difference here is that the Meditationes has come into play as a subtext 
and references to Longinus are filtered through it. This is especially 
obvious in Lauda 32: "Un fel Giudeo, che Longino e chiamato" ("A 
wicked Jew called Longinus").^^ But the Gesta Pilati continues to lurk 
in the background, and is recalled in at least one other lauda. Verse 60 
of Lauda 28, "ed e un vero maguo (mago) et rio" ("and he is a real 
sorcerer and he is evil"), echoes several passages in the Gesta Pilati 
(chaps. 1.1, 2.1, 2.5) where the Jews accuse Christ of being a sorcerer, 
a "magus."^ One lauda — ^number 4 — also alludes to the Harrowing of 
Hell: "gytto n'e em Lenbo a ffare aquisto, / a i sancti padri trar di 
presgione" (w. 9-10; "He went to limbo to redeem, / the holy fathers 
he set free from prison"). Although the reference is too general to 
indicate the Descensus Christi ad inferos as the specific source, it seems 
very likely that the author or authors of these laude from Cortona were 
familiar with both parts of the EN. The same may be said of Uguccione 
da Lodi and the author of the Passione lombarda. 

In // Libra, Uguccione da Lodi briefly evokes Christ's Descent into 
Hell (w. 227-29) immediately after his reference to the Longinus 
episode (w. 219-21). Despite its name, the Passione lombarda narrates 
all the major events of Christ's life from the Aimunciation to the 
Resurrection, including, in two short verses, his Harrowing of Hell: 
"per nu descende Cristo a I'infemo, / per trar nui de tenebria" (w. 
177-78; "for us Christ descends into hell, / to pull us out of dark- 
ness"). As in the laude cortonesi and // Libro, there is not enough here to 
claim the Descensus as the uruque point of reference. Indeed, in this 
particular case we have little more than the clause from the Apostles' 
Creed, "descendit ad inferos." On the other hand, there is absolutely 
no doubt of the provenance of a Harrowing passage in another signifi- 
cant lauda from the Duecento, this one from the Abruzzi region in 
south-central Italy. This archaic lauda, usually called the Lamentatio 
beate Marie defilio, is composed of thirty mono-rhythmic quatrains, six 
of which are dedicated to the Harrowing of Hell.^ The sequence 
focuses on the binding of Satan and the release of the patriarchs from 
hell, in other words, the material of chapters 24 and 25 of Descensus B, 
which the author of this important lauda must have had before his eyes: 

" Ibid., nos. 3, w. 99-102; 15, v. 23; 26, w. 23-26; 31, w. 11-14; 32, w. 59-62. 
^ Ibid., nos. 31, v. 11; 32, v. 59. 
" Cf. Meditationes, chap. 80. 
^ See Ceruti Burgio's note to this passage. 

^ This lauda is printed in Francesco A. Ugolini's Testi volgari abruzzesi del 
Duecento (Turin: Rosenberg & Sellier, 1959), 8-50. 


Poy ke na croce Christo spirao, 
Biva^amente a lu femu annao. 
Da poy ke gio, dentro n'entrao 
Et lu Malignu sci 'ncatenao. 

Da poy ke 11' abe strictu legatu, 
E mmultu forte I'ay menac^atu: 
"lammay non fay lo teu usatu! 
Ore te sta co- sci 'ncatenatu." 

Lu gran Siniore sci prese a ffare: 
Tuctu lu fernu prese a ccercare, 
Li soy fedili prese a ciamare 
E ttucti quariti 11 fa 'dunare. 

Giorme ad Adam k' ipsu creao; 
Levase Adam, sci favellao: 
"Ecco le mani ke mme plasmaru, 
Lu gran Siniore ke mme creao." 

Ore favella I'altu Siruore 
A ttuti sancti con grande amore: 
"Pro vuy sostinni la passione: 
Venite a 'rrcepere le gran corone." 

En paradisu ne I'ay menati 
E ttuti quanti I'ay coronati: 
"Co lo meu sangue vv'aio accattati; 
Ore vedete k' i' w'aio amati." (Vv. 65-88) 

(After Christ died on the cross, he 
immediately descended into hell. 
When he got there, he entered 
and chained the evil one. 

After he had bound him tightly, 
he chastised him greatly: 

"You will never again do what you used to do! 
Now you will be chained forever." 

The great Lord proceeded in this manner: 
he started searching all of hell, 
summoning his faithful, and then 
he made them all gather together. 

He went to Adam, whom he had created. 
Adam got up and said: "Here are 
the hands that shaped me, here is 
the great Lord that created me." 

Medieval Italian Literature 175 

Then the mighty Lord spoke 
to all the saints with great love: 
"For you I suffered the passion; 
come to receive the great crowns." 

He led them into paradise 
and crowned them all: "With my blood 
I redeemed you; now you can see 
how much I have loved you.") 

Verse 79 ("Ecco le mani ke mme plasmaru") translates exactly Adam's 
words to Christ in chapter 25 of Descensus B ("Ecce manus quae 
plasmaverunt me"). According to Ugolini, this lauda is the most an- 
cient example of the "literary type" of the "Pianto per la passione 
di Cristo" ("Lament for the Passion of Christ"),^ which flourished 
in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries. Poems belonging 
to this well-defined group, like the noted II Pianto delle Marie (w. 
243-47),^^ often call up the Harrowing, but never as explicitly as their 
prototype. In the universally recognized masterpiece of the type, 
Jacopone da Todi's Donna de Paradiso, also known as II Pianto della 
Madonna, there is no mention of it.^^ Indeed, I could detect no clear 
reference to the GN in any of Jacopone's poems. 

The most famous composer of laude seems to have shunned our 
apocryphon, but other less celebrated, mostly anonymous writers of 
laude used it as one of their favorite source books. The religious poems 
known as laude could take either a dramatic or nondramatic form, and 
were sung by lay confraternities in cities throughout Italy, starting in 
the second half of the thirteenth century. Most of the laude that I have 
referred to so far are of the nondramatic type, often referred to as 
"lyrical laude," even though they could be quite long and narrative in 
character, like the Passione lombarda and the Lamentatio abruzzese. The 
lyrical type developed earlier and eventually adopted the metrical 
scheme of the profane love ballad. However, the imprint of the apocry- 
phon can best be seen in the laude of the dramatic sort. Although there 
is some controversy concerning the lyrical type, there is general agree- 
ment that the dramatic kind first flourished among the Disciplirmti of 
Perugia,^ a lay religious movement which traces its begiimings to the 

^ Ugolini, Testi volgari abruzzesi, 10. 

'^ For the text, see ibid., 116-40. 

^ For the text, see Jacopone da Todi, Laude, ed. Franco Mancini (Bari: Laterza, 
1977), 201-6. 

" See Ignazio BaldeUi, "La lauda e i EHsdplinati," in // movimento dei Discipli- 
nati net settimo centenario dal suo inizio (Perugia - 1260), Convegno intemazionale: 
Perugia 25-28 settembre 1960, Appendice al Bollettino, n. 9 (Spoleto: Deputazione di 
Storia Patria per IXTmbria, 1%2), 338-67. 


great spiritual upheaval of 1260 led by Raniero Fasani. The movement 
quickly spread outside of Perugia into the rest of Umbria, and it was 
not long before confraternities of Disciplinati were established in cities 
throughout central and northern Italy. The Disciplinati combined self- 
flagellation with the singing of laude. In Perugia, probably under the 
influence of the Dominicans, the singing of laude was orgcinized 
around the liturgical calendar, and soon became an integral part of 
their "liturgy," as De Bartholomaeis explains: 

Nel margine della liturgia ufficiale, venne a formarsi una 
liturgia nuova, con un cerimoniale suo proprio, con una sua 
propria melodia; la quale, in origine, era stata la melodia 
popolare della canzone da ballo, ora rielaborata da' nuovi 
contrappuntisti che i Disciplinati assoldarono.^ 

(A new liturgy, with a ceremonial all of its own and with its 
own melody, came into existence on the fringes of the official 
liturgy. This melody, which had originally been the popular 
melody of the ballad, was later re-elaborated by the new 
contrapuntists recruited by the Disciplinati.) 

Some days were dedicated to the singing of Ijnrical laude, others to 
dramatic ones, also referred to as devozioni. Initially, the laude, whether 
lyrical or dramatic, were simply sung in the oratory. Later dramatic 
representations of the Passion and other sacred episodes were per- 
formed for the people in church and eventually in public squares. The 
dramatic form seems to have come into its own as a genre during the 
first half of the fourteenth century .^^ 

The laude of the Disciplinati of Perugia are preserved in two four- 
teenth-century collections, discovered by Monaci in the 1870's.^ They 
both contain about 160 laude, half of which are of the dramatic variety. 
There is no critical edition of the laudario perugino. However, a good 
selection of Perugian dramatic laude can be found in volume one of 
Vincenzo De Bartholomaeis's Laude drammatiche e rappresentazioni sacre, 
still the most extensive anthology of early Italian drama.^'' In De 
Bartholomaeis's collection there are several devozioni which clearly 

^ Vincenzo De Bartholomaeis, Origini della poesia drammatica italiana, 2d ed. 
(Turin: Society Editrice Intemazionale, 1952), 220. 

^ See Angela Maria Terruggia, "In quale momento i EHsdplinati hanno dato 
origine al loro teatro?" in // movimento dei Disciplinati, 434-59. 

^ Ernesto Monad, "Uffizj drammatici dei Disdplinati dell'Umbria," Rixrista 
difilologia romanza 1 (1872): 235-71; 2 (1875): 29--42. 

^^ Vincenzo De Bartholomaeis, ed., Laude drammatiche e rappresentazioni sacre, 
3 vols. (Florence: Le Monnier, 1943). 

Medieval Italian Literature 177 

draw on the EN. For the Perugian Passion lauda, De Bartholomapis 
cites the Meditationes vitae Christi (chaps. 75-83) as the sole source,^ 
but the Gesta Pilati seems also to be present, even if somewhat further 
removed. The fact that the very next lauda, the one for Holy Saturday, 
is fashioned on the Descensus supports this claim. I shall deal with this 
important lauda in a moment. First, I would Uke to discuss briefly 
another lauda also drawn from the Descensus. It is the short devozione — 
56 verses in all — for the third Sunday of Advent.^ Set in limbo, it 
recreates the patriarchs' sense of expectation before the arrival of 
Christ. The lauda begins with David's prophecy in chapter 21 of the A 
text (22 in the B): 

Presso e I'avenimento 

de quil signore de cuie io profetaie: 

trarrane d'este guaie 

e serim fuor de tanta tenebria (w. 1-4) 

(The coming of the Lord about whom 
I prophesied is near; he will free us 
from these misfortunes 
and we will be out of this darkness) 

and ends with Adam and Eve aimoundng their imminent release from 
hell and ascent into paradise: 

Noie che I'antico pasto 

mangiammo prima, prendiamo conforto, 

puoia che sem presso al porto 

d'andare en Cielo a quilla gerargia. (Vv. 53-56) 

(We who first ate the ancient meal, 
let us rejoice for the time is near 
for us to go into heaven 
to join that hierarchy.) 

In between Isaias, Geremia and Abel have speaking parts. Of these, 
Abel appears in neither the A nor the B text, and Eve is present only 
in B, but there is no doubt that the lauda takes the Descensus as its 
point of departure. However, it develops no further than the prophet's 
talk of Redemption. The event — Christ's Harrowing of Hell — alluded 
to in the conversation of the patricirchs never takes place in this lauda. 
To be sure, the Harrowing motif is evoked in another Perugian lauda 

^ Ibid. 1:232-43. Cf. Paolo Toschi, ed., L'antico dramma sacro italiano (Florence: 
Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, 1926), 1:153-70. 

* For ttie text, see De Bartholomaeis, Laude drammatiche, 153-55. 


from the Advent period, not included in De Bartholomaeis's collection. 
It is published by Giuseppe Galli in Laude inedite dei Disciplinati umhri.^ 
It is a curious lauda, also quite short (78 verses). The sinners of hell 
plead with Christ to have mercy on them. However, cross in hand, he 
rebuffs them. Then he turns to the just and leads them out of hell: 

Figluogle mieie, meco venite 

Benedecte dal mio Pate; 

El regno mio possederite 

Tucte quante ensiememente. 

El quale a voie fo ordenato 

Puoie ch'el mondo fo 'dificato. (Vv. 73-78) 

(My children, blessed by my Father, 
come with me; all of you together 
will attain my realm. 
This was ordained for you 
when the world was created.) 

The content of these two devozioni was probably suggested by the litur- 
gy, which, during Advent, reverberates with allusions to the Descensus 
themes. Within the laudario perugino they anticipate the Holy Week 
lauda in which the material of the Descensus is given full expression. 

The orthodox view, upheld by the majority of theologians, includ- 
ing Aquinas in the Summa theologiae (3a, q. 52, ad 3), was that Christ 
descended into hell immediately upon his death, while his body was 
still suspended on the cross. There was, however, another popular 
tradition which maintained that Christ did not descend into hell until 
the night before his Resurrection. This view was sustained by the 
many actions and words recalling the Descent in the liturgy for Holy 
Saturday and Easter Sunday. The Elevatio crucis ceremony celebrated 
before matins on Easter Sunday often included a dramatic representa- 
tion, based on the Vulgate Psalm 23, of the Harrowing. I mention all of 
this because the Perugian Harrowing lauda was in the beginning 
probably two separate laude}^ The first, performed on Holy Saturday, 
focused on the patriarchs in limbo. The second, for Easter, represented 
their release from hell and the ascent into paradise, where they met 
Enoch and Elijah, and the Good Thief. Later, the two were combined 
and assigned to Holy Saturday. The resultant devozione is considered to 

*° Giuseppe Galli, ed., Laudi inedite dei Disciplinati umbri scelte di sui codici piU 
antichi (Bergamo: Istituto Italiano d'Arti Grafiche, 1910), 105-7. 

*^ Cf. Toschi, L'antico dramma sacro, 1:200, and De Bartholomaeis, Origini della 
poesia drammatica, 305. 

Medieval Italian Literature 179 

be one of the masterpieces of early Italian drania^ and has been 
published several times.^ 

In its simplicity and linearity, it does have a certain charm and 
power. As the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets wait in limbo, a ray of 
light suddenly pierces the engulfing darkness and fills them with hope. 
The long-awaited Messiah has finally come to liberate them from their 
infernal prison: 

Quisto Itime mo venute 

procedon da quilla fontana 

che ne promise la salute 

de tutta quanta gente umana; 

pero ciascuno aggia buon cuore 

ch^ quisto h I'alto suo splendore. (Vv. 1-6) 

(This light which has just arrived 

springs from that fountain 

that promised us salvation 

for all human kind; 

so every one take heart 

for this is his high splendor.) 

Satan boasts to Hell of his previous victories over Christ (w. 67-72) 
but at the same time warns Hell to prepare for a struggle against the 
Son of God: 

Tosto t'apparecchia, Enfemo, 

per quillo che s'e gia gloriato 

ch'^ figliuol de Dio Etemo 

ed hanne el popol mio turbato, 

e fese tristo molto forte 

vedendo appressare la morte. (Vv. 43-48) 

(Get ready at once. Hell, 

for the one who has already been glorified, 

the son of God eternal; 

his coming has perturbed my people 

and made them sad, 

for they see death approach.) 

*^ See, for mstance, Mario Bonfantini, ed., Le sacre rappresentazioni italiane 
(Milan: Bompiani, 1942), 69, and Baldelli, "La lauda e i Disdplinati," 364. 

*^ See Galli, Laudi inedite, 60-71; Toschi, L'antico dramma sacro, 1:181-200; De 
Bartholomaeis, Laude drammatiche, 1:242-58; Bonfantini, Le sacre rappresentazioni, 
69-87; and Emilio Facdoli, ed., // teatro italiano. Dalle origini al Quattrocento, vol. 1 
(Turin: Einaudi, 1975), 90-112. 


Recalling the wounds it suffered when Christ resurrected Lazarus from 
the dead (w. 97-102), Hell at once rebuffs Satan and urges him to har- 
ness the forces of darkness in order to secure the gates against assault 

Or Satan, or te departe 

tosto da la sedia mia, 

e combatte con tuoie arte 

ch'el re de gloria qui non sia, 

ed alcimo chiude quille porte 

quanto se puo far forte. (Vv. 109-14) 

(Now Satan, now depart immediately 
from my abode, and fight 
with all your means so that 
the King of glory may not enter 
here; someone close those 
doors as securely as possible.) 

The pace of the action quickens. Satan orders his troops of demons to 
station themselves for combat: 

O dUette miei legione, 

contraste a quisto passo; 

ciascun piglie el suo cantone 

chi piu alto e chi piu basso. (Vv. 115-18) 

(Oh my beloved legions, 

oppose this act of force; 

everyone pick a spot, 

some up high and some down low.) 

Tension builds quickly as the Hebrew fathers demand repeatedly that 
Hell open its gates, adapting the "Attolite portas" formula from Psalm 
23:7 as in Descensus A, chapter 5: 

Aprite tosto e non chiudete, 
che mo venire lo vedrete! 

Apre, Enfemo, che se' vinto! (Vv. 119-20, 127) 

(Open up immediately and 

do not shut the gates 

for you will see him come now! 

Open up. Hell, for you are conquered!) 

True to the script. Hell responds by reformulating the "Quis est iste 
rex gloriae?" passage: 

Medieval Italian Literature 181 

Chi e I'uom cusi fervente, 

qual'e re de gloria ditto? (Vv. 145-46) 

(Who is this man who is so fervent, 
who is called the King of glory?) 

At this point, an angel's voice cries out to Hell: 

voie, principe de male, 
aprite quiste vostre porte! 
Comando a voie, porte etemale, 
che levare siate acorte, 

che quell' Alto gloria Rene 

per entrare qua entro viene. (Vv. 157-62) 

(Oh you, prince of evil, 
open these gates of yours! 

1 command you, eternal gates, 
to be ready to open 

because that mighty King of glory 
is about to come here to enter.) 

Then suddenly Christ, bearing the cross, arrives and smashes Hell's 
gates. Stimned, Hell shrieks a series of desperate questions (cf. Descen- 
sus A, chap. 6): 

Chi se' tu che me descioglie, 

quil che el mortal peccato lega? 

Chi se' tu, ch'el Limbo spoglie, 

enverso te ciascun si priega? 

Chi se' tu tal combattetore, 

ch'haie vento el nostro gran furore? (Vv. 205-10) 

(Who are you who uiUocks me, 

I who mortal sin contain? 

Who are you who despoils limbo, 

and to whom everyone kneels? 

Who are you, mighty warrior, 

who have overwhelmed our great furor?) 

Christ overpowers Satan, binds him, and banishes him to the furthest 
reaches of hell: 

Satan, tu haie data nulla pena 

a I'uom molto temporale, 

legar te voie con mia catena 

che tu non faccia a lor piti male! 

Enfin al novissimo dine 

per mia virtii starai cusine. (Vv. 229-34) 


(Satan, you have caused 
frail, timebound man much grief; 
I want to tie you with my chain 
so that you will no longer hurt him! 
Until Judgement Day you will remain 
this way by virtue of my power.) 

Then he extends his hand to the just of the Old Testament, starting 
with Adam, and takes them out of hell: 

E voie, sante miei, venite, 

quil ch'a mia 'magene fatte sete! 

JESUS ad sanctos: 

Voie sarete recomparate 
per lo legno cruciato, 
ch'eravate prima darmate 
per lo legno gia vetato. 
O Adam, mo pace sia 
a te colla tua compagnia! 


E voie, che foste el primo pate, 

vien de fuore emprimamente, 

e voie, figliuoglie, el seguitate; 

Abel, Abeth, buon servente, 

David, Arorme, e Moises, 

Isaia cogli altri quagiii messe. (Vv. 251-64) 

(And you, my saints, come, you 
who are made in my image! 

JESUS to the saints: 

You will be redeemed 

by virtue of the wood of the Crucifixion, 

you who had been damned 

because of the wood of the forbidden tree. 

Oh Adam, may peace now accompany 

you and yours. 

He continues: 

And you, who were the first father, 
come out first, 

and you, my children, follow him; 
Abel, Abeth, good servant. 

Medieval Italian Literature 183 

David, Aaron and Moses, 

Isaiah and all the others down here.) 

At this climactic point (v. 265), with the transition from "tristitia" to 
"gaudium," the solemn passiormle mode gives way to the celebratory 
pasquale manner.^ 

Alleluia cantiamo 

che noie andiam con Cristo Salvatore! 

Tutte te confessiamo 

che se' encamato per noie Redentore; 

o benegno Signore, 

che per le peccator sangue haie versato, 

al mondo quisto canto 

tu fa' sentir, che tanto t'e costato. (Vv. 297-304) 

(Let us sing alleluia 

because we are going with Christ the Savior! 

We all confess to you 

who became man in order to be our Redeemer; 

oh kind Lord, 

who have shed your blood for sinners, 

let this song, which has cost you so much, 

be heard throughout the world.) 

The scene now shifts to paradise: Christ hands the just to the Archan- 
gel Gabriel (and not Michael as in the Descensus) to be led into "I'alto 
regno." There they meet Enoch and Elijah and then Dysmas, the Good 
Thief. The lajuia ends with Christ aimouncing his imminent visit to his 
mother, who along with Mary Magdalene has been weeping for him at 
the sepulcher. The two Perugian Resurrection laude^ both begin with 
Mary in tears at Christ's tomb. The second of the two ends with a 
reference to Christ's triumph in limbo (w. 75-76). 

As this brief summary indicates, this devozione closely follows 
Descensus A, chapters 2-10 (i.e., EN A, chaps. 18-26). It deviates from 
the chronology of this text on two occasions only. It does away com- 
pletely with the Seth episode (chap. 3) and introduces a new scene (w. 
163-98) involving the Good and Bad Thieves immediately before 
Christ's Descent into limbo. There is no such scene in Descensus A. In 
Descensus B (chap. 7) the Good Thief precedes Christ into hell and 
announces his inuninent arrival. However, the new scene in our lauda 
has little to do with the episode in Descensus B. Rather it seems to be 

** De Bartholonuieis, Origini della poesia drammatica, 223-24. 

*' For the text, see De Bartholomaeis, Laude drammatiche, 1:259-69. 


an imaginative elaboration of chapter 10 of the Gesta Pilati. In the lauda 
it is the Bad Thief, Gestas, identified by name, who precedes Christ 
into hell. Lamenting his fate, he is led by demons to Satan, who greets 
him ironically: "Ben venga Gestas, el mio deletto! / voie che tu gode 
del mio regno" (w. 181-82; "Do come oh Gestas, my beloved! / I want 
you to enjoy my kingdom"). The scene shifts to Christ on the cross, 
who sends the Good Thief, Dysmas, to paradise. He is met there by the 
Archangel Gabriel, who admits him into the heaverUy realm: "Volen- 
tier t'apro e sta' en buon cuore" (v. 197; "I open the gates gladly and 
welcome you"). At the very end of the lauda (w. 345-60), the just find 
the Good Thief in paradise and converse with him. This final sequence 
follows Descensus A, chapter 10, and is in the right chronological slot. 
Nonetheless, there seems to be considerable confusion as to how the 
Good Thief got to paradise, since in verses 289-96 he is harrowed out 
of hell along with the Hebrew fathers. The fusion of two separate laude 
may account for the presence in this devozione of two versions of the 
Good Thief's assumption into heaven. Despite these anomalies, the 
devozione is remarkably faithful to Descensus A, which seems to be its 
only source. De Bartholomaeis makes the odd suggestion that the 
authors of this devozione used Jacobus a Voragine's summary in the 
Legenda aurea as a guide for the exclusion of episodes in their dramati- 
zation of the apocryphon.^ The only substantial portion of the De- 
scensus that the Perugian devozione excludes is the Seth episode, which 
the Legenda aurea includes. 

I have devoted some time to the laudario perugino because of its 
acknowledged position at the head of the Italian religious dramatic tra- 
dition and because of its enormous ii\fluence on the laudari of other 
cities. Also, as we have seen, it did much to popularize the EN, the 
Descensus portion in particular. The Perugian Holy Saturday lauda 
became a source for subsequent Harrowing laude and Harrowing se- 
quences in Passion and Resurrection plays. At least two other major 
collections of laude containing separate Harrowing plays have come 
down to us: one from Orvieto,*^ the other from L'Aquila in the Abruz- 
zi.** In 1405 Tramo Da Lonardo put together an anthology of laude of 
the Disciplinati of Orvieto, referred to as ripresentationi or devotioni. The 
Descent into Hell was presented on Easter. Unfortunately, the first part 
of this devozione is missing, but its dependence on the Perugian lauda 

*^ De Bartholomaeis, Origini delta poesia drammatica, 305. 

*'' For the text, see Annibale Tenneroni, ed., Sacre rappresentazioni per le 
fratemite d'Orvieto net Codice Vittorio Emmanuele 528 (Rome: Tipografia del Senate 
di Giovanni Bardi, 1914), 57-60. 

*^ For the text, see Vincenzo De Bartholomaeis, ed., // teatro abruzzese del medio 
evo (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1924), 32-40. 

Medieval Italian Literature 185 

is obvious. For instance, at the moment of the liberation of the patri- 
archs from hell, the meter changes from the passionale to the pasquale 
mode, as it does in the Perugian lauda.*^ The next devozione for Easter 
Monday on the apparition of Christ to the Virgin also resonates with 
echoes of the Harrowing.^ The theme was obviously an important 
one in Orvieto. 

The laudario of the Disciplinati of San Tommaso of L'Aquila was 
compiled during the second half of the fifteenth century, but contains 
pieces which are much earlier. One of these is a Harrowing lauda, La 
devotione delta festa de Pasqim, which probably dates from the end of the 
fourteenth century or the beginning of the fifteenth. The Perugian 
lauda's influence on it is less pronounced, and certainly not of a metri- 
cal order. The Disciplinati of San Tommaso did away completely with 
the pasquale mode. They also altered the verse form of the sestina, 
discarding the octosyllabic verse in favor of the hendecasyllable. These 
metrical changes facilitated the speaking of parts. In L'Aquila the 
devozione was no longer a ritual, closely tied to the liturgy, as it was in 
Perugia, but a spectacle, spoken rather than sung, for special feast 
days. Consequently, the staging became more elaborate, and the 
performance in due course moved out of the Church and into the 

The Disciplinati of San Tommaso's attitude toward sources was 
also quite different. A comparison between the Perugian Harrowing 
lauda and the L'Aquila devozione for Easter will bring this into focus. As 
I have already noted, the Perugian lauda depends almost exclusively on 
Descensus A, from which it rarely strays. It is a dramatic verse adapta- 
tion, sometimes almost a translation, of a single text. Moreover, the 
sequence of scenes, except for the spurious scene (w. 163-68) involv- 
ing the two Thieves, follows exactly the narrative of Descensus A. On 
the other hand, the devozione from L'Aquila is sustained by many texts, 
the most important of which is almost certainly an abridged Italian 
translation of EN B, very similar to one found in the Riccardiana 
manuscript published by Suchier.^^ For instance, Adam's words in 
stanza 44 clearly echo the B text (cf. Descensus B, chap. 9.1): "Questa e 
la mani del mio Criatore / che e venuto al Limbo ad Uberame!" ("This 
is the hand of my Creator / who came to limbo to free me!"). More- 
over, in the Easter devozione from the Abruzzi, as in the Riccardiana 
GN, Karinus and Leucius become Alexander and Rufus. However, in 

*' De Bartholomaeis, Origini delta poesia drammatica, 258. 

" For the text, see Tenneroni, Sacre rappresentazioni, 60-65; also published in 

Toschi, L'antico dramma sacro, 1:201-15. 
'' Suchier, Denkmaler, 573-88. 


the devozione, the role of the mute narrators of the Descensus is expand- 
ed: they become characters in the action with speaking parts. 

The subject matter of the Descensus dominates the devozione (51 of 
74 stanzas), but this material is framed by the last chapters (12 to 15 in 
particular) of the Gesta Pilati, which deals with the various other (indi- 
rect) accounts of Christ's Resurrection (that of the three rabbis from 
Galilee, that of the soldiers guarding the sepulcher, and that of Joseph 
of Arimathea). The devozione begins with the arrest and imprisonment 
of Joseph of Arimathea (sts. 1-5). Then the scene shifts abruptly to the 
arrival of the Good Thief in paradise, where he is greeted by an angel 
(sts. 6-9). Next we are plunged into limbo, where, we are told by 
Adam, the patriarchs have been in a state of high expectation ever 
since John the Baptist announced to them the coming of Christ (sts. 10- 
12). Several patriarchs and prophets (Isaiah, Simeon, John the Baptist, 
Noah, Seth, Moses, David, Aaron, and Joshua), not all of whom appear 
in the Descensus, step forward and recall the words with which they 
prophesied this event (sts. 13-33). Next a messenger arrives and warns 
Satanasso of Christ's approach (sts. 34-36): 

Quisto SCI e quillo che La^aro suscitone: 
Verra quagiii lo Limbo a despogliare, 
Se tu no fay bona provisione; 
Lu Limbo et lu Inferno fa bene inserrare; 
Se non te providi, vi che tte Ho dico, 
Serray legato chomo sou inimicho. (St. 35) 

(This man is the one who raised Lazarus 

from the dead: he will descend to despoil limbo 

if you do not make good provisions; 

it would be wise to lock limbo and hell; 

if you do not act, as I am telling you, 

you will be made his prisoner.) 

The Descensus figures of Satan and Hell (Inferus) are somewhat blurred 
in this passage. However, it is clear that Satanasso in the devozione 
is Hell. The Satan of the Descensus, on the other hand, is referred to 
as Luciferu, but he does not speak. He is present only to be bound. 
Needless to say, the dispute between the two infernal princes which 
precedes Christ's arrival in hell in the Descensus is absent from the 

In the next scene, Christ arrives and binds Lucifer (sts. 37-42). The 
patriarchs are then freed, starting with Adam (sts. 43-45). As Christ 
instructs an angel to take the patriarchs into heaven, Rufus moves 
forward and begs that he and his brother, "figlioly del devoto tuo 
Simone" ("the sons of the devout Simon"), be released. Christ obliges 

Medieval Italian Literature 187 

and commands them to make his deed known to the world (sts. 

Per quella carita c'abbe Simone, 

Voglio che nel mimdo ritomete; 

Dentro nel Templo ne fayte mentione. 

Ad tucto el populo parlete: 

"El Limbo delly boni a spolliatu. 

In etemo Lucibello a incatenatu!" (St. 47) 

(By virtue of that charity that Simon had, 
I want you to return to the world; 
you are to mention this in the temple, 
and to everyone you will announce: 
"The good have been freed from limbo; 
Lucifer has been chained for all eternity!") 

A stage direction explains that Rufus and Alexander remain in their 
tomb until Joseph of Arimathea is freed. This happens next (sts. 48-50), 
and Rufus and Alexander go to the Hebrew authorities to tell their 
story (sts. 51-54). Rufus's account of the Harrowing echoes Dante's 
brief evocation of the event in Inferno 4 (w. 55-63): 

Trassene Adamo el primo parente, 
Abraam, Aaron, David et Zaccharia, 
Moyses che fo tanto hobediente, 
Simone, Sette, Johanni et Jsaya; 
Et Patriarcha con altri Beati 
Tucti io li vidi insemi liberati. (St. 54) 

(He freed from limbo Adam, the first father, 

Abraham, Aaron, David and Zachariah, 

Moses who was so obedient, 

Simon, Seth, John and Isaiah; 

the patriarchs with other blessed ones, 

I saw them all freed together.) 

Caiaphas and Annas accuse the two brothers of heresy and have them 

A series of short scenes now follows in quick succession. Caiaphas 
and Annas order that Joseph be brought before them to be punished, 
but Joseph, his house still under lock and key, has disappeared (sts. 
55-60). Some pilgrims arrive in Jerusalem and are brought to Caiaphas 
and Armas to be questioned. The pilgrims, whose role recalls that of 
the three rabbis in Gesta Pilati, chapter 14, declare that Christ has risen 
from the dead and is now among his disciples in Galilee (sts. 61-65). 
As Armas refutes their claim, the soldiers guarding Christ's sepulcher 
(cf. Gesta Pilati, chap. 13) enter and confirm Christ's Resurrection (sts. 


66-69). On hearing this, Caiaphas and Annas decide that it would be 
undesirable for this news to be spread. They bribe the soldiers and the 
pilgrims to keep quiet (sts. 70-72; cf. Gesta Pilati, chaps. 13 and 14). The 
final two stanzas deal with the release of Rufus eind Alexander from 
prison by an angel. Christ's words in the last stariza (74) are identical 
to those he pronounced in stanza 47 after freeing the two from limbo. 
This may indicate that these stanzas are misplaced in the manu- 
script,^^ but at this point in the devozione the two brothers are, in fact, 
in prison (cf. st. 56). Whatever the case, the action seems to be incom- 
plete, although the devozione is duly concluded, as is typical in this col- 
lection, with a lyrical lauda. 

With reference to the play's sources, we are far from the simple 
intertextuality of the Perugian lauda with its uncompronusing fidelity 
to Descensus A. Here the scope has been widened to include the last 
chapters of the Gesta Pilati, but this material has been dismantied and 
redistributed. Large portions have been eliminated. Other texts have 
come into play to contaminate the primary source, which is almost cer- 
tainly, as I have indicated, an abridged B text of the EN, even though 
the order of the Descensus sequences sometimes suggests the A text. 
This is probably due to the influence of the Perugian Harrowing lauda. 
Interestingly, however, the Perugian lauda's presence is strongest in the 
Good Thief episode, which is out of place. In addition to Dante's Corn- 
media, another probable source is the Lamentatio abruzzese. 

In the lyrical lauda (sts. 75-82) that concludes the devozione, the 
freeing of the patriarchs from hell becomes a metaphor for the Re- 

Laudemo tucti el Criator Superno, 
Oggi ci liberdne dallo Inferno; 
In Paradiso menonci. 

O summo Dio, etemo Redemptore, 
De questa terra caccia via lu errore! 
O Signor, perdonancy! (Sts. 75, 82) 

(Let us all praise the supreme Creator, 
who today freed us from hell 
and led us into paradise. 

Oh mighty God, eternal Redeemer, 
banish sin from this world! 
Oh Lord, forgive us!) 

De Bartholomaeis, Origini delta poesia drammatica, 306. 

Medieval Italian Literature 189 

Given the triumphal nature of the Harrowing theme, this association 
was not uncommon,^ but here it is expressed in rather simple terms. 
On the other hand, in a late fourteenth- or early fifteenth-century Flor- 
entine play, entitled // contrasto di Belzabu e Satanasso, the idea takes on 
a theological dimension. This play is significant from several perspec- 
tives, including the history of medieval Italian theater, once identified 
exclusively with the Florentine sacra rappresentazione which flourished 
in the second half of the fifteenth century. Written in sestine of hen- 
decasyllables, like the devozione from L'Aquila, it stands midway 
between the Perugian laude and the Florentine sacre rappresentazioni in 
ottava rima. 

Despite its title, we are dealing essentially with a Descent into Hell 
play, drawn from Descensus B and perhaps other Harrowing plays like 
those from Perugia and L'Aquila. What distinguishes the Florentine 
play is that the Descensus has come into contact with the genre of the 
piato or dispute, and, in particular, with // Piato ch'ebbe Dio col Nemico, 
published by Roediger along with // contrasto di Belzahu e Satanasso in 
Contrasti antichi: Cristo e Satana.^ II Piato takes its cue from the Descen- 
sus. The opening scene has Christ dying on the cross and descending 
into limbo, where he remains until Easter morning, forty hours later, 
at which time he delivers the patriarchs out of hell.^ The devil ("lo 
dimonio") is present throughout the Passion monitoring events, mov- 
ing back and forth from limbo several times: 

Essendo Christo crocifixo in su la croce, lo nimico ne facea 
grande allegressa; andando et tomando molto spesso dal 
limbo, vide I'alegressa de li santi: incontenente congnoue la 
sua cor\fuxione. (LI. 4-7) 

(After Christ had been crucified on the cross, his enemy was 
extremely happy; he came and went often from limbo, and 
saw the happiness of the saints: his cor\fusion knew no limits.) 

The rest — the work is 261 lines long — consists of an animated theologi- 
cal discussion between God and the devil concerrung the justice of the 
Redemption. The devil argues that with Original Sin he has acquired 
legal rights over man: 

^ Jean Monnier, La Descente aux enfers, etude de pensee religieuse, d'art et de 
litterature (Paris: Fischbacher, 1904), discusses this association. 

^ See Friedrich Roediger, Contrasti antichi: Cristo e Satana (Florence: Alia 
Libreria Dante, 1887), 35-^8, 49-72. 

^ Ibid., 31-33. 


Disse lo dimonio: lo prouo che I'omo de' essere mio per legge 
vsata et anticata che non mi de' mai essere tolto. (LI. 22-24) 

(The demon said: I maintain that, in accordance with estab- 
lished and ancient law, man belongs to me and he can never 
be taken away from me.) 

The Descensus, of course, does not concern itself explicitly with theo- 
logical issues. It is principally a glorification of Christ, who descends 
into hell and defeats the forces of evil. These submit to his power; they 
do not argue the legality of his action.^ 

More than the content, II Piato determines the shape of // contrasto. 
The play begins with a debate between Belzabu and Satanasso, who 
correspond to Satan and Hell (Inferus), respectively, in the Descensus. 
This scene is based on the episode in the Descensus where the two 
infernal princes argue about what action is to be taken in preparation 
for Christ's arrival in hell. However, this episode, completely sup- 
pressed in the devozione from L'Aquila, is here greatly expanded and 
moved to a position of prominence, at the beginrung of the play (sts. 
1-18). Belzabii, like lo dimonio in // Piato, moves back and forth between 
earth and limbo, reporting on Christ's trial. Crucifixion, and death. 
This technique of reporting events rather than representing them is 
highly effective, and allows the author to contextualize the situation 
quickly by bringing into the picture events narrated in the Gesta. The 
next sixteen stanzas (19-34) deal with the prophecies of the patriarchs, 
the opening of the gate, and the liberation of the just. The triumphant 
element is understated: there is, for instance, no binding of Belzabu. 
Rather the focus is on the significance of the Passion. Christ's death on 
the cross is seen as the raiisom price to be paid for the Redemption of 
man, who with Original Sin had fallen under the devil's control: 

lo son Giesu per nome chiamato, 

morto so'stato in suUa dura crocie 

per riconp(e)rare d'Adamo il peccato: 

(che) tu-llo ingarmasti, nin\ico ferocie. 

Ronpete le porti et gittatele via, 

sicche entri dentro il figliuol(o) di Maria! (St. 31) 

(I am called Jesus, 

I died on the hard cross 

to redeem the sin of Adam: 

you tricked him, fierce enemy. 

Break down the gates and cast them aside 

so that the son of Mary may enter.) 

^ Cf. Ibid, 55. 

Medieval Italian Literature 191 

It is the so-called Latin or "juridical" theory of the Redemption which 
is being put forward here.^ In this context, it is not surprising that 
Adam and Eve are given more attention than in other Harrowing plays: 

Adamo che da me fusti creato 
et dettiti Eva per tua compagnia, 
poi commettesti qvel tale peccato, 
ch'io ne sono oggi morto in qvesta dia, 
la vostra colpa e oggi rimessa, 

ora venite alia patria promessa. (St. 32) 

(Oh Adam, whom I created 

and to whom I gave Eve as your companion, 

you committed that sin, 

for which I have died on this day; 

your sin has been redeemed today, 

now come to the promised land with me.) 

In the last part of the play (sts. 35-50), the influence of 7/ Piato is 
strongest. Adam and Eve and the other patriarchs have been delivered 
(st. 34), but Christ is detained in hell by Satanasso, who insists that a 
great injustice is being committed against him: 

Tu-ssai ben, Yesu, ch'io guadagniai 

Adamo, primo vom(o), per mio sapere. 

Lasciato posseder(e) tu si me I'M, 

Sanza niuna lite o qvistione avere: 

Adamo con costoro 6 posseduto, 

et mai a-tte non renderon(o) trebuto. (St. 37) 

(Jesus, you know well that I gained 

power over Adam by virtue of my knowledge. 

You allowed me to possess him 

without resistance or debate: 

1 have jurisdiction over Adam and the others; 
they have never paid tribute to you.) 

Christ refutes this claim: 

Non per saper(e) gli auesti; (ma) per inganni 
Adamo ed Eva, anzi gl'inganncisti; 
promettendo lor ben(e) desti lor daimi, 
del paradiso cacciar(e gli) procurasti (St. 38) 

^ On this subject, see Gustav A11I61, Christus Victor (London: S. P. C. K., 
1970), 81-100. 


(You did not gain control over them 

through knowledge but through deception. 

In fact, you deceived Adam and Eve 

by promising them good, but instead you gave them 

only grief, and you caused them 

to be banished from the earthly paradise ) 

The tone of the debate soon drops: the juridical gives way to the com- 
ical. Realizing that he has no chance of prevailing, Satanasso stoops to 
bargain. Christ can have the souls of limbo, but he is to keep the liv- 
ing: "qve(gl)i del mondo lasciami possedere" (st. 41). The offer is 
promptly rejected. Satanasso now becomes more and more pathetic 
and ridiculous. One final, absurd proposal: take the men but leave the 
women in hell (st. 49). Christ will have none of this: "N^ femmina n^ 
vomo aver potresti / di qvesta giente ch'aueui serrate" (st. 50; "You 
may keep neither the women nor the men of those people whom you 
have locked up"). Soon afterward, in mid-stanza, the play breaks off 
incomplete, but my impression is that the anonymous author had come 
to the end of his inspiration. 

There are documents recording representations of other Harrowing 
plays now lost. For instance, we know that a representation "di Cristo 
quando spoglid I'lnfemo" ("of Christ's Harrowing of Hell") was per- 
formed in Rome in 1473,^ and that among the edifizi or stage settings 
that circulated in Florence during the festival of John the Baptist there 
was one for limbo.^' Another index of the Harrowing's enormous 
popularity was that it often made its way into Passion and Resurrec- 
tion plays. Of course, these same plays often also echoed, directly or 
indirectly, the Gesta Pilati. However, as I have already noted, it is more 
difficult to pinpoint the Gesta's presence in these texts, since so much 
of it is drawn from the canonical gospels. In this sense it is much easier 
to track the Descensus and the themes associated with it. 

I shall now move on to some Passion and Resurrection plays 
where the Harrowing of Hell is either recalled or actually represented. 
This list is not intended to be complete;^ it includes only those plays 
which are immediately accessible to me. 

In the laudari we have discussed, the Descent into Hell was repre- 
sented either on Holy Saturday (Perugia) or on Easter day (Orvieto, 
L'Aquila). In other words, it was associated more with the Resurrection 

^ Alessandro D'Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano (Turin: Loescher, 1891), 

5' Ibid. 1:217-44. 

^ For a bibliography of Italian sacred drama, see Alfredo Cioni, Bibliografia 
delle sacre rappresentazioni (Florence: Sansoni Antiquariato, 1961). 

Medieval Italian Literature 193 

than with the Passion. I am aware of only one major Good Friday 
devozione in which the Harrowing theme is pervasive. To be sure, the 
Descent into Hell is not represented directly; rather the details of the 
event are recounted in the speeches of various characters. The devo- 
zione, along with one for Maundy Thursday, is contained in a Venetian 
manuscript from the last quarter of the fourteenth century .^^ The lan- 
guage is shot through with Venetian, but the two devozioni may be 
Umbrian in origin. The Good Friday devozione begins with the flagella- 
tion and ends with the placement of Christ's body in the tomb by 
Joseph of Arin\athea and Nicodemus. It also includes a moving lament 
of the Virgin, consoled by the Archangel Gabriel. The Harrowing 
dominates two important scenes. In the earlier scene (w. 201-44), two 
souls are resuscitated from the dead through the power of the Passion. 
One of them addresses Christ on the cross and tells him in language 
reminiscent of Dante {Inf. 4.55-63) that the patriarchs anxiously await 
his arrival in limbo: 

Adamo primo nostro parente 

Sta aparechiato te aspetando; 

Abel, Noe, e Abraam obediente, 

Isaac e lacob con ipso stando, 

Isai, leremia e David fervente, 

Elia e altri prophete merce chiamando, 

Et Moises legistro con lo vostro precursore 

Stano aspectando a vui, dolce Signore. (Vv. 233-40) 

(Adam our first father is ready 

and is waiting for you; 

Abel, Noah, and the obedient Abraham, 

Isaac and Jacob are with him 

as are Isaiah, Jeremiah and the fervent David, 

Elijah, and other prophets, all calling for mercy: 

and Moses the legislator with your precursor, 

they are waiting for you, oh sweet Lord.) 

The other scene is more elaborate (w. 362-428). As Christ is about to 
expire, Satanas ("lo Demonio") arrives and places himself on the right 
arm of the cross. He has come for Christ's soul, but first attempts to 
bargeiin with his foe (w. 387-88). Christ rejects the proposal, and an 
aiumated debate ensues between the two, during which the main 

*' For tfie text of these two devozioni, see Alessandro EKAncona, "Le devozi- 
oni del giovedi e del venerdi santo," Rivista difilologia romanza 2 (1875): 1-24, and 
Toschi, L'antico dramma sacro, 2:315-67. See also EKAncona's discussion in Origini 
del teatro italiano, 1:184-207. 


elements of the Harrowing (the storming of the gates, the binding of 
Satan, and the liberation of the just) are summarized (w. 389-428). 

In the course of the fifteenth century the ritual of performing devo- 
zioni throughout the liturgical year was gradually abandoned. Confra- 
ternities concentrated their efforts on a few major productions, at least 
one of which inevitably focused on the dramatic events of Easter week. 
This gave rise to the great Italian Passion plays of the fifteenth and six- 
teenth centuries from the Abruzzi, Rome, and Florence. Indeed, accord- 
ing to the statutes of the Confraternity of the Gonfalone, one of its 
principal functions was to "represent the Passion of Christ. "^^ Found- 
ed in 1486, the Arciconfratemita del Gonfalone combined several 
Roman associations of Disciplinati. In addition to the Passion play 
elaborately staged at the Colosseum on Good Friday, the Roman Con- 
fraternity put on a Resurrection play at Saint John Lateran or Saint 
Peter's. Later, in the sixteenth century, the Resurrection play too was 
staged at the Colosseum. These plays usually compressed and com- 
bined several existing shorter dramas treating episodes leading up to 
and following the Passion. By far the most famous of the Italian Pas- 
sion plays was La passione del Colosseo. In its early versions this play 
contained a scene set in limbo, but this episode was excised in later 
versions. It does not appear, for instance, in the version in octaves 
which bears the names of Giuliano Dati and others. First printed in 
1496, this version was republished several times during the sixteenth 
century.^'' Unfortunately, the limbo scene is also missing from the 
archaic version in sestine, published by De Bartholomaeis.^ However, 
here its absence is due simply to the fact that the only surviving copy 
of an early popular edition of the play used by De Bartholomaeis is 

The Dati version of La passione del Colosseo is 179 stanzas; the 
Abruzzese passione is over 300 stanzas. The longest of the Italian Pas- 
sion plays at 600 octaves is a highly derivative Florentine play con- 
tained in a late fifteenth-century compilation.^ This Passion play 
should not be confused with the more modest (85 stanzas) La rappresen- 
tazione della cena e passione by Castellano Castellani, which has been 

^^ De Bartholomaeis, Origini della poesia drammaiica, 365. 

^ See Fabrizio Cruciani, Teatro nel Rinascimento: Roma 1450-1550 (Rome: 
Bulzoni, 1983), 263-70; for the text, see Girolamo Amati, ed.. La passione di Crista 
in rima volgare secondo che recita e rappresenta da parola a parola la dignissima compag- 
nia del Gonfalone di Roma il venerdi santo in luogo detto il Colosseo (Rome: Sinim- 
berghi, 1866). 

" Laude drammatiche, 2:154-83. 

*' De Bartholomaeis, Origini della poesia drammatica, 404-8. 

Medieval Italian Literature 195 

published several times.^ These plays are huge if compared with the 
devozioni of the fourteenth century, which averaged 300 to 400 verses, 
but they are insignificant if measured against La passione di Revello, 
which stands in a category by itself.^^ It is as close as Italy comes to 
the massive French mystery plays. Presented over a three-day period 
in 1490, the Revello Passion spans some 13,000 verses. Despite its 
name, the play covers the whole history of man's Redemption through 
to the Resurrection. A certain Fra Simone seems to have been entrusted 
with the drafting of the text. Well-versed in theology if not in poetry, 
Fra Simone taps a large number of sources to realize his vision.^ One 
of these is the GN. Tlie Gesta Pilati is extensively used in Day Two, 
from verse 1282 on, and a condensed Descensus A, complete with a 
scene in paradise with Enoch and Elijah, is reenacted on Day Three 
(w. 1936-2051) near the end of the play, i.e., within the context of the 
Resurrection. The position of the Harrowing sequence in La passione di 
Revello underscores the fact that the Descent into Hell is more easily 
absorbed into Resurrection than Passion plays. 

There is a short but interesting Harrowing sequence (w. 781-834) 
in the Roman Resurrection Play.^' It begins with the holy fathers in 
limbo singing a song in praise of God. As soon as their song ends, 
Christ appears and knocks on the infernal gates. Satan arrogantly 
rebukes him, demanding to know who it is that has come to disturb 
his realm. Christ exclaims: 

Che tardi tu, Satan perche non apri 

A me che voglio il Limbo dispogliato? (Vv. 799-800) 

(What are you waiting for, Satan, why won't you open 
the gates for me who want to despoil limbo?) 

Satan remains defiant. At this point the apocryphon is pushed aside and 
the words of Psalm 23:9-10 in Latin are called forth and dramatized: 

CRISTO hatte un'altra volta e dice: 

Attollite portas, Principes, vestras, et elevamiru, portae 
aetemales, et introibit Rex gloriae. 

^ See, for instance, Luigi Banfi, ed., Sucre rappresentazioni del Quattrocento 
(Turin: UTET, 1963), 325-72. 

*^ Anna Comagliotti, ed.. La passione di Revello (Turin: Centre Studi Piemon- 
tesi, 1976). 

** These sources are listed by Comagliotti in the introduction to her edition 
of La passione di Revello, xxxiv-xlvii. 

^ De Bartholomaeis, Laude drammatiche, 2:183-96. 


SATAN risponde: 

Quis est iste Rex gloriae? 
CRISTO risponde: 

Dominus fortis est in praelio, ipse est Rex gloriae! (Vv. 803-5) 

(CHRIST knocks again and says: 

Lift up your gates. Princes, and raise up the eternal gates, and 
the King of glory shall come in. 

SATAN answers: 

Who is this King of glory? 
CHRIST answers: 

The Lord mighty in battle, he is the King of glory!) 

Then quickly Christ forces the gates open, chains Satan, and frees the 
holy fathers. "Vien fuora" ("Come out") he cries repeatedly as he 
leads them out of hell. Freed from the abyss, the holy fathers kneel and 
sing "Adoramus te." 

The Festum Resurrectionist^ a short (120 verses in all) fifteenth- 
century Resurrection play from Pordenone in the Veneto region, simi- 
larly appropriates Psalm 23. The action in the thirteen-verse Harrowing 
sequence, with which the play begins, is reduced to its bare essentials. 
It takes its cue from chapter 2 of Descensus A. A light pierces the 
engulfing darkness of limbo, and Adam exclaims: 

Quest'^ la luce del Segnore mio, 
quest'^ lo lume del Figliuol de Dio! 
Noi te avemo pur chiamato tanto, 
che hai udito il nostro amaro pianto. 
O Redentore de I'umana came, 
tu se' venuto pur a liberame. (Vv. 1-6) 

(This is the light of my Lord, this 
is the light of the Son of God! 
We have called you so much 
that you have heard our sad cries. 
Oh Redeemer of man, you have 
now come to free us.) 

For the text, see De Bartholomaeis, Laude drammatiche, 2:297-302. 

Medieval Italian Literature 197 

Isaiah relates his prophecy concerning this light by quoting Isaiah 9:2. 
Here Italian gives way to Latin, preparing the stage for the dramatic 
exchange between Christ and Infemus taken from Vulgate Psalm 23:9- 
10. The sequence ends here. A stage direction informs us that Christ 
despoils hell. 

The Harrowing episode in an anonymous fifteenth-century Floren- 
tine Resurrection Play^^ is almost as long as the whole of the Festum 
Resurrectionis. It occupies 15 of 106 octaves (sts. 10 to 24). The episodic 
structure of this sacra rappresentazione indicates that it is a reworking of 
several shorter plays or laude. The Harrowing episode is clearly indebt- 
ed to the Perugian Holy Saturday devozione or one very similar to it. 
The original model — Descensus A — is further in the background. The 
anonymous author may not even have known the apocryphon directly. 
The narrative has been shortened, but some new details have been 
added for dramatic effect. Christ carrying a banner figuring the cross 
and flaxseed by two angels appears suddenly and announces his 
intention to free the souls of limbo. Then he descends into hell and ties 
Satanasso. Unlike the Roman Satan, the Florentine Satanasso is not 
defiant. He acknowledges the power of Christ and acquiesces: 

Dapoi che tanto onore t'e concesso, 

per forza tremo, e te Signor confesso. (St. 14) 

(Since so much honor has been granted to you, 
I tremble before your strength, and acknowledge you as 

He seems to be a conflation of the figures of Satan and Inferus in the 
Descensus. Christ calls the patriarchs to himself and leads them to 

Adam, vien fuor del limbo e di prigione, 
e tu, Abram, principal patriarca, 
ancor tu Josue, cor di leone, 
e tu, No^, che fabricasti I'eirca. 
Esca qua fuor il forte Gedeone, 
e David, re de' profeti, monarca. 
E tutti gli altri con gran festa e riso 
venitene al terrestre pziradiso. (St. 15) 

(Adam, come out of limbo and prison, 
and you, Abraham, the principal patriarch, 
and you too, Joshua, the lion-hearted. 

^ For ti\e text, see Banfi, Sacre rappresentazioni del Quattrocento, 373-422. 


and you, Noah, who built the ark. 
Come out, strong Gideon and David, 
King of the prophets and monarch. 
And all the others, with joy and laughter, 
come with me to the earthly paradise.) 

Adam thanks him on behalf of them all. Next several of the patriarchs 
step forward and speak. Each bears in hand an object which identifies 
him. Noah, for example, carries an ark. Turning to the others he says: 

Questo legno de I'arca sublimate 
dimostra nostra grande esaltazione. (St. 17) 

(This wood representing the ark 
demonstrates our great exaltation.) 

David, holding a psalter, says: 

Questo Salter letifica il cor mio; 
sonando io cantero le laude a Dio. (St. 17) 

(This psalter delights my heart; 
by playing it, I praise the Lord.) 

Then he begins to sing, "Misericordias domini in etemum cantabo." 
The others join in as they proceed to the earthly paradise. A stage 
direction teUs us that it is located on top of a mountain and is guarded 
by an angel with sword in hand. This detail betrays the influence of 
Dcmte, visible elsewhere in the play. There they meet the Good Thief 
and then Enoch and Elijah. Like the Umbrian lauda, the episode ends 
with Christ announcing his intention to visit and console his mother: 

Restate ch'i' vo' prima visitare 

mia madre santa, e quella consolare. (St. 24) 

(Stay here while I go to visit 

my saintly mother and console her.) 

There is no doubt that the EN's impact — and that of the Descensus 
in particular — was greatest in drama, but the work, as I have already 
indicated, also left its mark on other areas of medieval Italian litera- 
ture. Federico Frezzi, for example, dedicates a chapter to "Limbo and 
Original Sin" with a Harrowing sequence in // Quadriregio 2.4, an uiun- 
spired imitation of Dante's Commedia/^ However, with the exception 
of Dante, whom I shall discuss in a moment, the most ambitious and 

^ Federico Frezzi, // Quadriregio, ed. Enrico Filippini (Bari: Laterza, 1914). 

Medieval Italian Literature 199 

complex adaptation of the Descensus belongs to the fourteenth-century 
Sienese poet, Niccolo Cicerchia. The first part or cantare (85 octaves) of 
his long narrative poem entitled La Risurrezione is an imaginative 
amplification of Descensus A, which he probably knew in an Italian 
translation. The second part, which deals more specifically with the 
events of the Resurrection proper, adapts portions of the Gesta Pilati — 
chapter 12 (sts. 3-15) and chapter 15 (sts. 120-26) in particular— but its 
major sources are the canonical gospels and the ubiquitous Meditationes. 
La Risurrezione was written sometime after 1364, the date of composi- 
tion of La Passione, Cicerchia's other, more fortunate narrative poem in 
ottava rima. It too taps the Gesta Pilati (see st. 107, for instance), but not 
as extensively or as obviously. La Passione's enormous popularity 
during the Renaissance was due, in part, to the fact that it was attri- 
buted during this period to either Petrarch or Boccaccio. Some work 
has been done on Cicerchia's sources, in particular by Varanini in his 
edition of La Passione and La Risurrezione,^ but the Sienese poet's 
complex appropriations from the EN need to be investigated further. 
Themes from the EN, especially the Harrowing, were also sum- 
moned up in sermons. Franco Sacchetti, for instance, better known to 
literary historians for his Trecentonovelle, dedicates the sermon for Holy 
Saturday to the Descent into Hell in his Sermoni evangelici (no. 46)7* 
The presence of the apocryphon is even more frequent in what De 
Bartholomaeis aptly calls "sermoni semidrammatici" ("semidramatic 
sermjns").^ In this genre, which evolved in the fourteenth and fif- 
teenth centuries, the preacher punctuated his sermon with dramatic 
laude and at times witfi other forms of poetry. This kind of preaching 
was used especially by the Franciscans in the remote mountainous 
regions of the Abruzzi. Alessandro de Ritiis was a proficient practitio- 
ner of the genre, as the selection from his Sermonale in the appendix to 
De Bartholomaeis's II teatro abruzzese del medio eve illustrates.^^ His 
sermons are punctuated by dramatic laude and dramatizations of pas- 
sages from Cicerchia's poems, which de Ritiis believed to be by 
Petrarch. However, this practice is by no means limited to the Abruzzi. 
The Passione di Revello incorporates sermons by Fra Simone. Perhaps 
the best example of this procedure from our perspective is the Vene- 
tian devozione for Good Friday, in which there are several indications 

^ Niccol6 Cicerchia, "La Passione eind La Risurrezione," in Cantari religiosi 
senesi del Trecento, ed. Giorgio Varanini (Bari: Laterza, 1965), 307-447. Varanini 
discusses Cicerchia's sources on pp. 542-51. 

^* Franco Sacchetti, / sermoni evangelici, ed. Ottavio Gigli (Florence: Le 
Monnier, 1857). 

^ Origini delta poesia drammatica, 325-35. 

^* Pp. 317-28. 


in the text that the action is suspended to give way to preaching: "Dito 
questo, lo Predicatore predica" ("Having said this, the preacher begins 
to preach"). This particular interruption comes in the midst of the ani- 
mated debate between Christ and Satanas which I referred to earlier. 

There is no doubt that the EN was a very dynamic and productive 
text in the Italy of the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. Both the 
A and the B text were translated several times, it would appear. More- 
over, it was repeatedly adapted, especially in dramatic form. Some- 
times great care was taken not to deviate from the original too much; 
at other times, it was elaborately reworked, bringing other sources into 
play or redefining the material in relation to another genre. It was 
amplified, and it was compressed to be inserted into a longer work. 
But no one used the material more imaginatively and boldly than 

Dante knew the content of the EN from various sources. He had 
probably read Vincent of Beauvais's and Jacobus a Voragine's summa- 
ries of the work, and was certainly familiar with theological accounts 
of the Descent into Hell like that of Aquinas in the Summa theologiae 
(3a, q. 52, ad 3). He may also have come into contact with a version of 
the original text. Several details point in this direction. For instance, in 
limbo he describes Christ at the Harrowing as "un possente, / con 
segno di vittoria coronato" ("a mighty one, / crowned with the sign of 
victory" [Inf. 4.53-54]).'^ The phrase "segno di vittoria" seems to echo 
"signum victoriae," used in both Descensus A (chap. 8.1) and Descensus 
B (chap. 10.1) to refer to Christ's cross. The souls of limbo plead with 
Christ to leave it in hell as a sign of his victory over the forces of evil 
and death. The reference to the blessed as "bianche stole" in Paradiso 
30.129 recalls two passages in the Apocalypse in which St. John speaks 
of the "white garments" of the elect (Rv. 3:5 and 7:13; cf. Par. 25.95), 
but the metaphor may also have been suggested by the "stolas albas" 
of Descensus A, chapter 11.1, i.e., the white robes that the souls har- 
rowed by Christ from hell received after being baptized in the River 
Jordan. In some versions of Descensus A, chapter 7.1, Beelzebub is 
described as having three heads.^* Dante's Lucifer, whom he also 
calls Beelzebub in Inferno 34.127 is, of course, three-headed. More gen- 
erally, Dante's representation of Lucifer as a grotesque, ice-bound crea- 
ture banished to the bottom of hell's pit may have been influenced, in 

"^ All quotations from Dante's Commedia are from Dante Alighieri, La Comme- 
dia secondo I'antica vulgata, 4 vols., ed. Giorgio Petrocchi (Milan: Mondadori, 1966- 

^* Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha, 400; cf. Luigi Moraldi, ed., Apocrifi del 
Nuovo Testamento, Classici deUe reUgioni, sezione 5 (Turin: UTET, 1971), 633. 

Medieval Italian Literature 201 

part, by the Satan of the Descensus, who after his defeat is chained cind 
thrust into the abyss. 

Traces of the Gesta Pilati are more difficult to discover. However, 
I would like to propose that the mysterious "colui / che fece per vHtk 
il gran rifiuto" {Inf. 3.59-60; "the one who made, because of cowardice, 
the great refusal"), usually identified as Celestine V by the commenta- 
tors,^ may be a reference to Pilate and his vile act of washing his 
hands of Christ's fate. To be sure, Pilate's candidature has been put 
forward before*' but not on the grounds that at this point in the 
poem Dante's major subtext, along with Aeneid 6, is the EN. In other 
words, the intertextual context of Inferno 3 and 4 strongly suggests 
Pilate as the unnamed soul who committed the "great refusal." The 
intertextual link between the Commedia and the apocryphon fimctions 
not only at the level of details, but also in a wider structural sense. I 
have argued elsewhere that Dante's two major narrative models in the 
Inferno are Book 6 of Virgil's Aeneid and the Descensus Christi ad inferos.^^ 
The canonical gospels offered no clear narrative pattern for him to 
follow in constructing his poema sacro. The Descensus was the closest 
thing to a Christian narrative epic that Dante could find. Thus Dante 
appropriated the Harrowing story, with its powerful dramatic imagery, 
artfully combined it with his classical narrative model, and generally 
used it to pattern his own descent into hell. He also turned to it to 
define structurally three of his most important episodes in the first 

The structure of Dante's Commedia could not, of course, accommo- 
date a direct representation of the Harrowing. Nevertheless, the most 
logical place to stage the Descent into Hell, using all the stock images 
available in the Descensus and other traditional accounts, would be 
Inferno 4. Dante's treatment of limbo, however, is unique. Taken as a 
whole, it departs completely from the preceding tradition, both theo- 
logical and poetic. By creating the "nobile castello" ("noble castle"), 
which contains the virtuous pagans, Dante breaks with the concept of 
limbo that had evolved in the West from the New Testament through 
St. Augustine and Gregory the Great to St. Thomas. Dante also over- 
turns the usual poetic representation of limbo by shifting the emphasis 
from the Harrowing of Hell to the "nobile castello." 

" See Francesco Mazzoni's summary of the criticism on the subject in Saggio 
di un nuoxx) commento alia Divina Commedia, Inferno, Canti l-lll (Florence: Sansoni, 
1967), 390-415. 

*" See Mazzoni again for the summary of the criticism, ibid. 

*' Amilcare A. lannucd, "Dottrina e allegoria in Inferno WTQ., 67 - IX, 105," 
in Dante e le forme deU'allegoresi, ed. Michelangelo Picone (Ravenna: Longo, 1987), 


In his representation of limbo, Dante is interested in neither the 
"limbus puerorum" nor the "limbus patrum" and the Harrowing of 
Hell. He is concerned rather with the "limbus paganorum integrorum" 
or the "nobile castello," which he created to dramatize the tragic con- 
sequences of the Fall in that ururedeemed period of time between 
Adam and Christ. Dante's stark evocation of the Harrowing in Inferno 
4 is stripped of the bold agonistic imagery which vivifies traditional 

. . . lo era nuovo in questo stato, 
quando ci vidi venire un possente, 
con segno di vittoria coronato. 

Trasseci I'ombra del primo parente, 
d'Abel suo figlio e quella di Noe, 
di Moise legista e ubidente; 

Abraam patiiarca e David re, 
Israel con lo padre e co' suoi nati 
e con Rachele, per cui tanto fe, 

e altri molti, e feceli beati. 
E vo' che sappi che, dinanzi ad essi, 
spiriti umani non eran salvati. (Vv. 52-63) 

(. . . I was new-entered on this state 
when I beheld a Great Lord enter here; 
the crown he wore, a sign of victory. 

He carried off the shade of our first father, 
of his son Abel, and the shade of Noah, 
of Moses, the obedient legislator, 

of father Abraham, David the king, 
of Israel, his father, and his sons, 
and Rachel, she for whom he worked so long, 

and many others — and He made them blessed; 
and I should have you know that, before them, 
there were no human souls that had been saved.)^^ 

The Harrowing is no longer the focal point of Dante's limbo. Its pri- 
mary function is to set in dramatic relief the tragedy of the virtuous 
pagans. In its new context, the Harrowing announces not so much vic- 
tory as defeat, for in his representation of limbo Dante transfers the 
poetic axis from those whom Christ released from the prison of hell 
to those who were left behind. By shifting the focus from comedy to 

*^ The translation is by Allen Mandelbaum, The Divine Comedy of Dante 
Alighieri. Inferno (New York: Bantam Books, 1982). 

Medieval Italian Literature 203 

tragedy, he succeeds in creating in his limbo one of the most gripping 
and poignant episodes in the entire Commedia. 

The poetic power of Dante's limbo lies precisely in the unexpected 
juxtaposition of two images — the Harrowing of Hell and the "nobile 
castello" — one an image of release and fulfilment, the other of confine- 
ment and melancholy, one of comedy and the other of tragedy. In 
order to emphasize the tragedy of imredeemed time, Dante deliberate- 
ly dramatizes it in a context traditionally used by poets and theolo- 
gians alike to represent the "comic" turning-point in history. Dante's 
limbo is a place not of jubilation but of sadness and the melancholy 
which results from the knowledge that one can never attain spiritual 
fulfilment: "sanza speme vivemo in disio" {Inf. 4.42; "without hope we 
live in desire"). In short, in Inferno 4 Dante downplays the imagery 
connected with the Descent into Hell because he wants to depict not 
the fullness of time — "plenitudo temporis" — ^but the emptiness of 

Dante is too alert to the dramatic possibilities of the imagery tradi- 
tionally associated with the Harrowing of Hell to abandon it alto- 
gether. Instead he reworks it, blending Christian elements with pagan 
ones, and presents them in a new setting. Dante gives the revitalized 
imagery full play in the terrifying drama which takes place in front of 
the walls of the City of Dis {Inf 8.67-9.105). Demons try to prevent 
Dante's and Virgil's entry into the city, and are supported by the three 
Furies and indeed the Medusa herself, who lurks menacingly in the 
background. Virgil, i.e.. Reason, is unable to overcome the forces of 
evil unaided. But soon a divine being, an obvious analogue of Christ, 
descends from heaven to help them. He puts the devils and the Furies 
to flight, and then forces open the gate of the city {Inf 9.88-90). The 
"messo" compares his mission to that of Hercules, who overpowered 
Cerberus when he rescued Theseus from Hades {Inf. 9.91-99). But obvi- 
ously the pagan archetype is fused with the Christian one, for the 
"messo's" action also recalls that of Christ, who 1266 years earlier had 
unlocked that "less secret door" at the mouth of hell's pit: 

Questa lor tracotanza non e nova; 
che gia I'usaro a men segreta porta, 
la qual sanza serrame ancor si trova. 

Sovr' essa vedestu la scritta morta. {Inf. 8.124-27) 

^ For a more complete discussion of Dante's limbo from this perspective, see 
Amilcare A. laimucci, "Limbo: The Emptiness of Time," Studi danteschi 52 (1979- 
80): 69-128. 


(This insolence of theirs is nothing new; 
they used it once before and at a gate 
less secret — ^it is still without its bolts — 

the place where you made out the fatal text.)^ 

The whole episode is an original and powerful stylistic reworking of 
the Harrowing of Hell, governed by the laws of Dante's cultural syn- 
cretism. Nonetheless, the inner mearung of the episode remains the 
same as that of the Harrowing. This adaptation of the Descent, like the 
traditional version, celebrates the victory of the forces of good over the 
forces of evil, and man's release from the slavery of sin. Here it is 
Dante, and hence everyman, who is "harrowed" from hell. Actually, 
the divine messenger intervenes to make it possible for the pilgrim to 
descend into lower hell, into the mosqued City of Dis, as he must do 
if he is to ascend Mount Purgatory and rise into Paradise.*^ 

The little sacra rappresentazione before the City of Dis illustrates 
how Dante injects new life into the familiar story simply by recasting 
it and presenting it in a new and unexpected context. In Inferno 2, 
Dante taps the motif if not the imagery of the Harrowing in a more 
subtle marmer. In this episode Beatrice is not just a figure of her 
earthly self, or an allegory of revelation; rather she fulfils the role of 
Christ-figure she assumed in the Vita Nuova. Christ's last act in his first 
coming was to harrow hell. Beatrice's descent into limbo completes the 
analogy to Christ in his first coming established in the Vita Nuova. It 
should be noted that there is complete temporal (within the liturgical 
time frame of the poem) and spatial correspondence between Beatrice's 
descent into hell and Christ's. But in Inferno 2 the underlying structural 
model — the Harrowing of Hell — is not reinforced with the dramatic 
imagery usually associated with the theme. Instead, Beatrice's descent 
into limbo is presented in lyrical terms reminiscent of the dolce stil 
nuovo, which Dante used to describe her in the Vita Nuova. Nonethe- 
less, Beatrice too enters hell triumphantly, although the imagery sur- 
rounding her descent is very subdued. Beatrice, like Christ, is not sub- 
ject to the devil's power or hell's torment {Inf. 2.88-93). Moreover, 
Beatrice too "harrows" hell. She frees Dante and, by exter\sion, man- 
kind from the constraints of their self-made terrestrial hell, objectified 
in the metaphor of the "selva oscura" ("dark forest"). After all, it is 
she who overcomes the three beasts which collectively embody the sins 
of hell, and in particular the "lupa" ("she-wolf"), which was let loose 
by Satan himself {Inf. 1.111). 

** Translation by Allen Mandelbaum. 

*^ For a more detailed study of this episode, see lannucd, "Dottrina e 

Medieval Italian Literature 205 

One more point. In traditional harrowings, as we have seen, Christ 
liberates Adam from hell first. This symbolic gesture emphasizes 
Christ's redemptive power and establishes a clear link between the 
man who first cast mankind into sin and the man who released us 
from it. Here it is Dante, who at one level of the prologue's allegory is an 
Adamic figure and at another everyman, who is set free by Beatrice.^ 

Despite the Commedia's immense influence and prestige, Dante's 
treatment of the apocryphon is so uruque that it leaves few traces on 
the subsequent literature, except for the verbal echoes which I have 
signalled in the course of this essay. Post-dantesque representations of 
limbo remain, for the most part, tied to the Evangelium Nicodemi, and 
in Italy they never quite surpass the simple and naive beauty of the 
Perugian Holy Saturday lauda. 

** For a more detailed study of this episode, see Amilcare A. lannucd, 
"Beatrice in Limbo: A Metaphoric Harrowing of Hell," Dante Shidies 97 (1979): 

The Gospel of Nicodemus in 
Old English and Middle English^ 


> "^^ his essay is concerned with questions of use, status and influ- 
vAI ence of the Gospel of Nicodemus in Old English and Middle 
V^ English.^ An important measure of influence and status is use, 
and use can be investigated through examining how materials have 
been organized in manuscripts, the compilation of sequences — be they 
narrative, meditative, devotional, or all three — and the adaptation and 
appropriation of texts to different geru-es of writing. But it is the manu- 
scripts which have the most to tell us about how the Gospel of Nicode- 
mus was used; and so, where possible, it is from the manuscripts that 
this essay draws much of its evidence. 

Old English prose 

The earliest manuscript containing an English text of the Gospel of Nico- 
demus is Cambridge University Library (CUL) MS. K. 2. 11, an Old 

' I would like to acknowledge financial tissistance from the Pantyfedwen 
Fund of University of Wales, Lampeter, which allowed me to consult manuscripts 
in veirious British repositories. I am grateful to Miss Suzanne Eward, Librarian 
and Keeper of Muniments at Salisbury Cathedral, cmd Mr. Roger Custcince, Fel- 
lows' Librarian, Winchester College, for assistance with manuscripts in their col- 
lections. I would like to thank Dr. Janet Burton, Dr. Nicole Crossley-HoUand, 
Prof. Zbigniew Izydorczyk, Prof. Derek Pearsall, and Dr. Oliver Pickering for 
their help in the preparation of this essay. 

^ Abbreviated GN when used generically or with reference to English and 
other vernacular versions. For the Latin text of the Evangelium Nicodemi, abbrev- 
iated EN, H. C. Kim's edition. The Gospel of Nicodemus: Gesta Salvatoris, Toronto 
Medieval Latin Texts, vol. 2 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 
1973), is used throughout; the text is cited in the order of chapter, paragraph, and 
line number(s). Reference is made occasionally to the EN texts in Constantinus de 
Tischendorf's Evangelia apocrypha, 2d rev. ed. (Leipzig: H. Mendelssohn, 1876), 

208 C. W. MARX 

English gospel book from the third quarter of the eleverith century. 
The first item (fols. 2r-173r) is a translation of the gospels into West- 
Saxon,-^ this is followed by the OE prose Gospel of Nicodemus (fols. 
173v-93r)* and the last item (fols. 193r-202r), the Vindicta Salvatoris in 
OE prose.^ The manuscript was among the donations of Bishop Leo- 
fric (d. 1072) to Exeter Cathedral and can be identified in his list as 
"{jeos Englisce Cristes-boc"; as N. R. Ker and Max Forster have shown, 
the copy of the donation list now in the Exeter Book originally be- 
longed to this manuscript.^ The status of the GN here is ambiguous: it 
might be seen as a fifth gospel, and yet the way it is presented in the 
manuscript suggests that it was of secondary importance. The begin- 
nings of the four gospels are signalled by rubricated Latin incipits, and 
each starts on a recto even though the facing verso has had to be left 
blank for Mark (fol. 54v), Luke (fol. 84v) and John (fol. 132v). The GN, 
on the other hand, begins at the top of fol. 173v, the verso of the last 
page of John's gospel. The initial letter is enlarged to two lines and 
illuminated; the text opens as follows: 

On {)aere halgan Jjrynnysse naman, her ongynnad pa gedonan 
Jjyng pe be urum haelende gedone waeron, eall swa Peodosius 
se maera Casere hyt funde on Hierusalem on J)aes Pontiscan 

' Edited by Benjamin Thorpe, Da Halgan Godspel on Englisc: The Anglo-Saxon 
Version of the Holy Gospels (London: J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1842), and recently 
by R. Liuzza, The Old English Version of the Gospels, EETS OS, vol. 304 (London: 
C)xford University Press, 1994). Cf. N. R. Ker, A Catalogue of Manuscripts Contain- 
ing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), 28-31, no. 20; P. R. Robinson, 
Catalogue of Dated and Datable Manuscripts c. 737-1600 in Cambridge Libraries, 2 vols. 
(Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1988), 1:34, no. 55. 

* Edited by W. H. Hulme, "The Old English Version of the Gospel of Nico- 
demus," PMLA 13 (1898): 457-542; the text from this manuscript is presented on 
pp. 471-515 in parallel with that in London, British Library (BL) MS. Cotton 
Vitellius A. XV. For editions based on the Cambridge manuscript, see S. J. 
Crawford, ed.. The Gospel of Nicodemus, Anglo-Saxon Texts, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: 
I. B. Hutchen, 1927), and Thomas Powers Allen, ed., "A Critical Edition of the Old 
English Gospel of Nicodemus" (Ph.D. diss.. Rice University, 1968); cf . also Jackson 
J. Campbell, "To Hell and Back: Latin Tradition cmd Literary Use of the Descensus 
ad Inferos in Old English," Viator 13 (1982): 112-14, and A. di Paolo Healey, 
"Anglo-Saxon Use of the Apooyphal Gospel," in The Anglo-Saxons: Synthesis and 
Achievement, ed. J. D. Woods and D. A. E. Pelteret (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier 
University Press, 1985), 95-98. 1 am aweire of but have not had the opportunity to 
consult the forthcoming work by Professor J. E. Cross et al. on the Latin exemplar 
of the OE prose GN. 

^ Edited by Bnmo Assmann, AngelsSchsische Homilien und Heiligenleben (1889; 
repr. with introduction by Peter Clemoes (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchge- 
sellschaft, 1964), xxxiv, 181-92. 

^ Ker, A Catalogue, 28-31; Max Forster, "The Donations of Leofric to Exeter," 
in The Exeter Book of Old English Poetry, intro. R. W. Chambers, Max Forster, and 
Robin Flower (London: P. Lund, 1933), 10-14. 

Old English and Middle English 209 

Pilates domeme, eall swa hyt Nychodemus awrat eall myd 
Ebreiscum stafum on manegum bocmn Jdus awryten. (Fol. IVSvf 

(In the name of the Holy Trinity, here begins [the account of] 
the deeds which were performed by our Savior, just as Theo- 
dosius, the famous emperor, discovered it, among many 
books, in Jerusalem in the judgement hall of Pontius Pilate, 
[and] just as Nicodemus wrote it, set out entirely in Hebrew 

The orUy other enlarged initial in the Gospel begins the text proper, 
immediately following this. The above, although it is not rubricated, is 
the indpit for the GN and is abbreviated from the Latin prologue {EN 
Prol.1-14); it serves the same purpose as the incipits for the four 
gospels, but is less prominent and less a signal for a major division in 
the manuscript. The GN ends on fol. 193r; after one blank line is a two- 
line illuminated irutial "O" beginrung the Vindicta Salvatoris. The divi- 
sion here is like that used between chapters in the canonical gospels. 
There is no explicit for the GN and no indpit of any kind for the 
Vindicta Salvatoris, which might be taken as an additional chapter of 
the Gospel. 

The status of the manuscript itself is uncertain. As Forster ar- 
gued,® it has some of the features of a sacred liturgical book. For 
example, rubricated titles or instructions signzd when a gospel passage 
is appointed in the liturgy; these are in OE and followed by a brief 
Latin indpit of the passage in the same ink as the main OE text. But 
what status did the manuscript have? It contrasts with the other gospel 
book in Leofric's donation, Oxford, Bodleian Library (Bodl. Lib.) MS. 
Auct. D. 2. 16; this is in Latin, is organized and decorated as a liturgi- 
cal book, and contains no additional texts, apart from the prefaces of 
Jerome and Eusebius.' Would a compiler have been as ready to in- 
clude apocryphal materials in a Latin gospel book such as this? Despite 
the prestige of the veniacular in Anglo-Saxon England, the GN was 
probably placed beside the gospels in the Cambridge manuscript 
precisely because it was a vernacular compilation. Further, it is diffi- 
cult to imagine the OE manuscript being used as a liturgical book in 
the strict sense; it may have had some allied function for study or 
reading aloud in other contexts. The sequence in CUL MS. li. 2. 11 of 

^ Hulme, "The Old English Version," 471.1-5. 

* Forster, "The Donations," 13-17. 

' F. Madan and H. H. E. Craster, A Summary Catalogue cf Western Manuscripts 
in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, vol. 2, pt. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922), 511- 
12, no. 2719; Otto Pacht and J. G. Alexander, comps.. Illuminated Manuscripts in the 
Bodleian Library, Oxford, vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 33, no. 427. 

210 C. W. MARX 

the four gospels, the GN, and the Vindicta Salvatoris points to the use 
of apocryphal texts to supplement and extend the account of the life of 
Christ up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem. As we shall 
see, this is a recurring feature of the manuscript history of the GN. The 
rescuing of the souls from hell and the vengeance of Christ were seen 
as crucial to the working out of the history of the Redemption. The 
manuscript's function was probably not so much liturgical but more 
that of a repository of sacred history. 

The nature of the OE Gospel of Nicodemus itself goes some way to 
support this argument. It is derived from the textual tradition of EN A, 
and it is useful to compare it with Kim's edition from the codex Einsid- 
lensis. The OE text shows close translation, paraphrase, compression, 
and omissions. Some of the omissions can be attributed to mechanical 
error either in the Latin exemplar or by the translator. For example, the 
OE has no counterpart for EN 4.3.11-4.4.2;^° this was clearly lost 
through eyeskip. The same explanation accounts for the loss of EN 
15.6.13-17." But other omissions are probably intentional, even if 
they reflect some clumsy editing; whether this occurred in the Latin 
tradition or the Old English is not clear. The episode of the standards 
as it appears in EN 1.5.1-1.6.17 is compressed into this short passage: 

Se rynel hyne waes swy3e byddende J)aet he sceolde in ofer his 
hraegl gan, ond se leofa haelend hyne weard geeaSmedende. 
Ac onmang pam pe he waes ingangende, hyne waeron faela 
manna geeadmedende ond heora heafdo to hym onhyldende. 
(Pol. 175r)^2 

(The messenger earnestly beseeched him to walk over his gar- 
ment, and the beloved Savior humbly complied. But among 
those [in the place] where he entered, many men worshipped 
him and bowed their heads to him.) 

The editor or translator is aware of the episode, but he has distorted it 
so that its significance is lost to the context. The largest omission is the 
counterpart to EN 5.1.6-11.3.3; this could reflect intervention in the 
Latin. The OE text is sewn together in this way: 

Pa stod Jjar to foran J)am deman an ludeisc wer J^aes nama 
waes Nychodemus, ond cwaed to {?am deman, "La leof, ic 
bydde pe for Jjynre myltse pdet du laete me sprecan ane feawa 
worda." I>a cwaed Pilatus, "Gea spree." I>a cwaed Nichodemus, 

'° Cf. Hulme, "The Old English Version," 480.12. 
" Cf. ibid., 492.22. 
'2 Ibid., 474.5-9. 

Old English and Middle English 111 

"Ic secge eow ealdron ond maessepreostum ond diaconum 
ond ealre J^yssre ludeiscan maenigeo \>e her on geferscype syn- 
don; ic axie eow hwaet ge wyllon aet J?yson men habban." 
Swylce word he Jsaer fordlet swylce aer nan o3er ne dorste. Pa 
waes hym J5aer neh sum wer standende se waes losep genem- 
ned, waes god / wer ond ryhtwys, ond naes naefre hys wylles 
{5aer man J>one haelend wregde on nanum gemange. He waes 
of Jjaere ceastre \>e ys genemned Arimathia ond he geanbidien- 
de waes Codes ryces oQ J)aet de Cryst waes ahangen ond he aet 
Pilate J)a Crystes lychaman abaed ond hyne of J^aere rode 
genam ond on claenre scytan befeold ond hyne on hys nywan 
J)ruh alede on J)aere \>e nan oder man aer on ne laeg. (Fol. 

(Then stood there before the judge a Jewish man whose name 
was Nicodemus, and he spoke to the judge, "Indeed, dear sir, 
I pray you, through your mercy, that you allow me to speak 
a few words." Then Pilate said, "Yes, speak." Then Nicode- 
mus said, "I speak to you elders and priests and deacons and 
to all this multitude of Jews who are here in a company; I ask 
you what you desire from this man." He spoke such words 
there as no other dared before. Then was there standing 
beside him a certain man who was called Joseph, a good and 
righteous man, and it was never his wish that they should 
denounce the Savior in any assembly. He was from the city 
which is called Arimathea, and he was waiting for the king- 
dom of God — until Christ was crucified — and he asked Pilate 
for the body of Christ, and took it from the cross and wrapped 
it in a clean sheet and laid it in his new tomb in which no 
other man had lain.) 

This passage begins with material from chapter five, down to "hwaet 
ge wyllon aet {jyson men habban" {EN 5.1.1-6), which is followed by 
a reference to Nicodemus's speech in defense of Jesus (EN 5.1.6-18). 
The next clause, "|Da waes hym ^aer neh sum wer standende," is edi- 
torial and places Joseph with Nicodemus at the trial of Christ. The 
remainder is from EN 11.3.3-10, the context of which is the deposition 
and burial. The phrase "od f)aet 3e Cryst waes ahangen" is editorial 
and is designed to account for the events between the trial and death 
of Christ; it is syntactically awkward, and how it functions is not clear. 
The omissions from the Gospel are the accounts given in his defense of 
the miracles of Christ, the decision to release Barabbas, the flagellation. 

Ibid., 480.16-32. 

212 C. W. MARX 

and the Crucifixion. It has been argued that this lacuna reflects the loss 
of folios from the original OE manuscript/^ but another explanation, 
in the light of what has been discussed so far, is that the text — ^possibly 
the Latin recension which was the exemplar of the OE translation — ^has 
been subject to editorial work designed to compress it, and more im- 
portantly to remove material which duplicates the gospels.^^ There 
are other omissions, but they are less extensive in the latter part of the 
text where the narrative depends less on the biblical source.^^ The GN 
in CUL MS. li. 2. 11 reflects the processes not orUy of translation but of 
adaptation. Although the text in this manuscript is not the origir\al,^^ 
it is probable that the OE Gospel ofNicodemus was designed for a very 
similar context, a vernacular gospel book with additional apocrjrphal 
narratives providing a record of early Christian history. 

This translation of the GN is found in two other manuscripts, both 
about 100 years later. Here the contexts suggest different "readings" of 
the apocryphal Gospel. London, BL MS. Cotton Vitellius A. XV is a 
composite manuscript: the portion (fols. 4r-93v) which contains the GN 
is dated by Ker to tt\e middle of the twelfth century; the other (fols. 
94r-209v) is the Beo«;M//-manuscript dated saec. X/XI.^* The GN (fols. 
60r-86v) is the second item and is missing a little more than two pages 
at the begiiming." It was copied independently of the Cambridge 
manuscript and preserves some clearly "better" readings. It is pre- 
ceded by a paraphrase in OE of the Soliloquia of St. Augustine ^° attri- 
buted to King Alfred (fols. 4r-59v) and followed by the prose Solomon 
and Saturn (fols. 86v-93v),2^ and a homily on St. Quintin (fol. 93v).^ 

'* W. H. Hulme, ed., "The Old English Gospel of Nicodemus," Modem 
Philology 1 (1903-4): 582-83; Michael Swanton, ed. and trans., Anglo-Saxon Prose 
(London: Dent, 1975), 144. 

^' Hulme, "The Old English Version," 517, had earlier suggested editorial 
intervention; AUen, "A Critical Edition," 7-13, describes a process of editing but 
suggests no purpose for it. 

'* The most extensive, EN 16.1.6-16.3.16, occurs at Hulme, "The Old English 
Version," 492.29; this is testimony concerning the recognition of Christ by Simeon 
and repetition of aspects of the Passion and burial of Christ. 

" Ibid., 540-41; Campbell, "To Hell and Back," 114. 

" Ker, A Catalogue, 279-83, nos. 215 and 216. 

'' This text is printed in parallel with that in the Cambridge manuscript by 
Hulme, "The Old English Version," 471-515. 

^° Edited by Thomas A. Camicelli, King Alfred's Version of St. Augustine's 
"Soliloquies" (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1%9). 

^^ Edited by James E. Cross and Thomas D. HUl, The Prose "Solomon and 
Saturn" and "Adrian and Ritheus": Edited from the British Library Manuscripts with 
Commentary, McMaster Old English Studies and Texts, vol. 1 (Toronto: University 
of Toronto Press, 1982); see also Ker, A Catalogue, 279-80. 

^ Edited by Max Forster, "Zur altenglischen Quintinus-Legende," ArchivfUr 
das Sttidium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 106 (1901): 258-59. 

Old English and Middle English 213 

The manuscript is damaged and a contents list compiled for Cotton 
indicates that between items one and two there was a portion of a 
legend of St. Thomas the Apostle. Here the Gospel has become part of 
an anthology of didactic and wisdom literature. Thomas Shippey has 
pointed out that the Solomon and Saturn text in this manuscript, al- 
though it has a place in wisdom literature, is also curiously literal and 
factual in the questions it asks and the answers it gives.^ It was per- 
haps this taste for the factual which attracted the compiler to the 
Gospel; it provided answers to nagging questions, such as what did 
Christ do between his death and Resurrection, and what was the fate 
of those who lived before his coming. In the late thirteenth century, the 
manuscript was in the library of St. Mary's, Southwick, Hampshire, a 
priory of Augustinian canons founded in 1133, and it is possible that 
it originated there.^* 

The same association with didactic literature is found in the other 
mid-twelfth-century manuscript of this translation, London, BL MS. 
Cotton Vespasian D. XTV^ it consists of texts for teaching theology, 
many but not all of which are homilies of ^^Ifric.^^ There is no evi- 
dence as to its ownership, but Ker tentatively located it to Canterbury 
or Rochester on the basis of the handwriting. More recently Rima 
Handley has argued that the original compilation was made at Canter- 
bury.^^ The Gospel, here entitied De resurrectione Domini, is item 31 
(fols. 87v-100r) and shows extensive revision when set against the 
other two manuscript texts of the translation. It opens in this way: 

Daes daeiges pe ure Haelend for ure alesednysse gedolede pine 
on paer halgen rode, pa waes Jjaere neh sum were standende, 
se waes Joseph genaemned, and he waes god were and rihtwis, 
and naes naefre his willes, J?aer me J?one Haelend forwreigde. 

" Thomas Shippey, Poems of Wisdom and Learning in Old English (Cambridge: 
D. S. Brewer, 1976), 21. 

^* N. R. Ker, ed.. Medieval Libraries of Great Britain. A List of Surviving Manu- 
scripts, 2d ed.. Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks, vol. 3 (London: 
Offices of the Royal Historical Society, 1964), 181; Camicelli, King Alfred's Version, 

" This version has been edited by Hulme, "The Old English Gospel of Nico- 
demus," 591-610, and by Rubie D.-N. Warner, Early English Homilies from the 
Twelfth-Century MS Vesp. D. XIV, EETS OS, vol. 152 (London: K. Paul, Trench, 
Triibner, 1917), 77-88. See also Healey, "Anglo-Saxon Use of the Apocryphal 
Gospel," 98-99. 

" Ker, A Catalogue, 271-77, no. 209; Malcolm Godden, ed., JElfric's Catholic 
Homilies: the Second Series, EETS SS, vol. 5 (London: Oxford University Press, 
1979), xl-xlii. 

^' Rima Handley, "British Museimi MS. Cotton Vespasian D. XTV," Notes and 
Queries 219 (1974): 243-50. 

214 C. W. MARX 

on nanen gemange. He waes of jDaere ceastre pe is genaemned 
Barimathia. He onbad on Jerusalem for6 Jjaet se Haelend waes 
ahangen, and to J)an aefene he eode to Pilate, and abaed aet 
him Cristes lichame. . . . (Fol. 87vf^ 

(On the day on which our Savior, for our Redemption, suf- 
fered torture on the holy cross, then was there standing near- 
by a certain man who was called Joseph, and he was a good 
and righteous man, and it was never his will that men should 
accuse the Savior in any assembly. He was of the city which is 
called Arimathea. He remained in Jerusalem until the Savior 
was crucified, and in the evening he went to Pilate and asked 
him for the body of Christ ) 

There are verbal echoes of the passage from the Cambridge manuscript 
given earlier,^^ but the text has been shaped so that it effectively 
begins at EN 11.3.3; there is none of the awkwardness of the transition 
from the events of the trial to those of the deposition. This version is 
what its Latin title declares it to be, an account of the Resurrection. The 
text is characterized by compression, paraphrase, and a general free- 
dom with the original;^" it even contains some preacherly asides: 

Eala, maen J?a leofeste, hwu ladlic and hwu grislic waes fjaere 
deoflene gemot, J?a seo Helle and se Deofel heom betweonen 
cidden! (Fol. 96rf ^ 

(Alas, most dear people, how horrible and dreadful was that 
council of the devils, when Hell and the Devil quarrelled 
between themselves.) 

Eala maen, hwu grislic hit waes pa J?a seo deo/fellice Helle 
{)one feond Beelzebub underfeng, and hine faeste geheold! For 
{?an se Deofol waes aer psere helle hlaford, and eallra fjaere 
deofellicre J^ingen pe hire on waeron. (Fol. 98r-v)^^ 

(Alas, people, how dreadful it was when the devilish Hell 
took charge of the fiend Beelzebub, and held him securely! For 
that Devil had been the lord of hell and of all the devilish 
possessions which were in it.) 

^ Warner, Early English Homilies, 77. 

2' Hulme, "The Old EngUsh Version," 480.24-29. 

^ Hulme, "The Old English Gospel of Nicodemus," 582-83. Handley, "British 
Museum MS. Cotton Vespasian D. XIV," 243-50, states that this is a feature of 
many of the texts in the compilation. 

'' Warner, Early English Homilies, 85. 

32 Ibid., 86. 

Old English and Middle English 215 

Again the text is being used for a purpose. There is some uncertainty 
as to the function of the manuscript, whether it can be seen as a homil- 
iary in a very strict sense. Handley prefers to characterize it as "a 
teaching manual for young religious."^ Nevertheless, a large number 
of homilies have been used to compile this manuscript, and Hulme 
needlessly cavils at the notion that this version of the GN can also be 
called a homily, in the broader sense impUed by this context.^ His 
argument that the two passages given above may have been added by 
the compiler does more to support than to deny the hypothesis. The 
text has been edited and adapted to this new, didactic context, and 
was probably designed as a "temporale" sermon on the Resurrection.^ 

This text of the GN was copied independently of the other two 
manuscripts and is followed by the story of Titus and Vespasian, an 
abbreviation of the Vindicta Salvatoris (fols. 100v-102r).^ That these 
two texts should appear in sequence is likely to be the result of design, 
and both have been subject to the same type of revision, possibly by 
the same scribe. It is probable that the model for the sequence is 
reflected in the Cambridge manuscript. The linking of the two texts in 
Cotton Vespasian D. XTV gives support to the earlier suggestion that 
the lost original manuscript was in nature and content very much like 
CUL MS. K. 2. 11. 

The OE prose translation of the GN is thought to date from the 
early to mid-eleventh century, possibly as early as the mid-tenth cen- 
tury.^ Apart from this, there are many texts in OE verse and prose 
which use the subject of the Harrowing of Hell. J. J. Campbell has 
argued that there is no evidence to show that any of these owes a debt 
to the Gospel and that they are based on a variety of sources such as 
sermons, commentaries, hymns, and theological writings. This conclu- 
sion is endorsed by Greenfield and Calder.^ Campbell has failed, how- 
ever, to take account of a passage in the seventh Blickling Homily .^^ A 
major source for this homily is the pseudo-Augustinian "Sermo 160: De 

^ Handley, "British Museum MS. Cotton Vespasian D. XIV," 247. 

^ Hulme, "The Old English Gospel of Nicodemus," 580. 

^ Handley's argument ("British Museum MS. Cotton Vespasiem D. XTV," 
245-46) that Judgement Day is the organizing theme of quire block D, where the 
GN appectfs, is strained. 

* Edited by Assmann, Angelsachsische Homilien, 193-94. 

^'^ Hulme, "The Old English Gospel of Nicodemus," 6-7; Campbell, 'To Hell 
and Back," 112-13. 

^ Stanley B. Greenfield and Daniel G. Calder, A New Critical History of Old 
English Literature (New York: New York University Press, 1986), 199. 

^ The manuscript is dated saec. X/XI (Ker, A Catalogue, 451-55, no. 382). For 
the edition of the seventh Blickling Homily, see Richard Morris, ed.. The Blickling 
Homilies of the Tenth Century, EETS OS, vol. 73 (London: N. Triibner, 1880), 82-97. 

216 C. W. MARX 

pascha n,"^ or, as seems likely, a version of the Latin which included 
additional material.^^ What has not been noticed is that the third 
paragraph of "Sermo 160" shows close verbal parallels with EN 22 and 
23. The precise relationship of these two texts is open to question, but 
it is likely that the EN is the source for the homily.*^ Paragraph three 
of the pseudo-Augustinian sermon appears as part of the seventh 
Blickling Homily: 

"Hwonon is ^es J)us Strang, & pus beorht, & J)us egesfull? . . . 
Nu he hafa^ on his hidercyme ealle scyldige fordemde & 

("From where is this one, so strong and so bright and so terri- 
fying? . . . Now, by his coming here he has condemned and 
humbled all the guilty.") 

A homily in Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS. Junius 121, of the third quarter of 
the eleventh century, makes use of another text of pseudo- Augustine's 
"Sermo 160," and this also contains a translation of paragraph three.^ 
In an important sense, however, Campbell's argument remains intact, 
for it is only through the vehicle of the pseudo-Augustiruan homily 
that this portion of the EN found its way into the vernacular. Other OE 
homilies contain lively accounts of the Harrowing and present themes 
found in the GN,^ but Campbell's investigations do not suggest that 
it is used in these texts. He admits, however, that authors may have 

*° PL 39:2059-61; see Eligius Dekkers and Aemilius Gaar, Clavis patrum lati- 
norunt (Steenbrugis: In Abbatia Sancti Petri, 1961), 89. 

*^ David N. Dumville, "Liturgical Drama and Panegyric Responsory from 
the Eighth Century? A Re-examination of the Origin and Contents of the Ninth- 
Century Section of the Book of Ceme," Journal of Theological Studies 23 (1972): 374- 
88; Campbell, "To Hell and Back," 131-34, 136-43. Sources for the homily include 
Eusebius "Gallicanus," "HomiUa XU, De pascha, I," and "Homilia XHA (Homilia 
XII ampliata), De pascha, LA," in his Collectio homiliamm, de qua entice disseruit loh. 
Leroy, ed. Fr. Clone, CC SL, vol. 101 (Tumhout: Brepols, 1970), 141-50. 

*^ I drew attention to this parallel with the EN in my Ph.D. dissertation, 
C. W. Marx, "The Devil's Rights and the Deception of the Devil: Theological Back- 
ground and Presentations in Middle English Literature, with an Edition of the 
Devils' Parliament," 2 vols. (Ph.D. diss.. University of York, 1981), 1:52-53; see also 
Zbigniew Izydorczyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," Manuscripta 33 
(1989): 180. The relationship between the two texts needs further investigation, 
but I am not convinced that it is cruciad to the argument that the homily pre-dates 
by quite a considerable time the earliest surviving manuscript of the Descensus 
Christi ad inferos. 

*' Morris, The Blickling Homilies, 85, 87. 

** Edited by Anna Mciria Luiselli Fadda, " 'De Descensu Christi ad Inferos': 
Una inedita omelia anglosassone," Studi medievali 13 (1972): 1002-1004.82-99; 
Campbell, "To Hell and Back," 138-41. 

*5 Campbell, "To HeU and Back," 134-36, 141^2. 

Old English and Middle English 217 

been at some distance from their sources. The kinds of variations in 
speeches and ideas these texts introduce do not preclude the ultimate 
influence of the GN, although firm evidence is so far lacking.^ 

The Middle English Harrowing of Hell and the 
thirteenth-century context 

Treatments of materials based on the Gospel of Nicodemus reflect the 
new linguistic, literary, and doctrinal climates of the twelfth and thir- 
teenth centuries. At least four influences need to be taken into account 
the use of French as first a dominant and then a rival literary language, 
the emergence of the sentiment and the literature of affective piety, the 
effects of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 on the provision of pop- 
ular, instructional writing, and finally changes in the doctrine of the 
Redemption, a subject with which the Gospel is intimately bound up. 
We can catch a glimpse of its status in the late thirteenth century 
through some remarks in a Latin text which had profound influence on 
the literature of popular piety, the Legenda aurea of Jacobus a Voragine. 
In the chapter on the Passion, Jacobus cites the EN for the names of the 
two Thieves and details of Christ's dispute with Pilate.*^ In the chap- 
ter on the Resurrection, the EN is referred to in this way: 

De septimo autem et ultimo hie considerando, qualiter sanctos 
patres, qui erant in limbo, Christus eduxit et quid ibi egit, 
evangelivun aperte non explanavit. Augustinus tamen in quo- 
dam sermone et Nicodemus in suo evangelio aliquatenus hoc 

(Concerning the seventh and last issue that needs to be con- 
sidered here, namely how Christ led out the holy fathers who 
were in limbo and what he did there, the gospel has declared 

*^ See the homily of the imd to late eleventh century printed by Hulme, "TTie 
Old English Gospel of Nicodemus," 610-14, from Cambridge, Corpus Chrlsti Col- 
lege (CCCC) MS. 41, pp. 295-301 (Ker, A Catalogue, 43-45, no. 32). An unpub- 
lished version of this honuly appears in CCCC MS. 303, pp. 72-75 (saec. XU; Ker, 
ibid., 99-105, no. 57). On this homily, see Sara Cutforth, "Delivering the Damned 
in Old English Homilies: An Additional Note," Notes and Queries 238 (1993): 435- 
37; Ms. Cutforth is prepjuing an edition in which she tissesses the evidence for 
the use of the GN. 

*^ Jacobus a Voragine, Jacobi a Voragine Legenda aurea vulgp Historia Lombardica 
dicta, ed. Th. Graesse (1890; repr., Osnabriick: O. ZeUer, 1%9), 223, 226. This text, 
or parts of it, are thought to have reached England in the 1270s; see Manfred Gor- 
lach. The Textual Tradition of the South English Legendary, Leeds Texts and Mono- 
graphs, n.s., vol. 6 (Leeds: School of English, 1974), 28. 

** Jacobus a Voragine, Legenda aurea, 242; the section on tf\e Harrowing of 
Hell appears on pp. 242-45. 

218 C. W. MARX 

nothing openly. Nevertheless, Augustine in a certain one of 
his sermons and Nicodemus in his own gospel have revealed 
something of this.) 

The absence of clear testimony about the Harrowing of Hell in the 
canonical gospels does not mean that there is no truth to the episode: 
the EN and the sermon of Augustine are the authorities for it. The 
sermon referred to is in fact the pseudo- Augustine, "Sermo 160: De 
pascha," and the extracts from it include that portion of paragraph 
three which has parallels with the EN 22 and 23. The apocryphal 
gospel is, by implication, endorsed twice. 

One indication of the different directions in which treatments of 
the GN were moving in the thirteenth century is provided by London, 
BL MS. Harley 2253, located to Herefordshire.'*^ It is a trilingual mis- 
cellany in two parts: the first four quires (fols. 1-48) are "written in a 
professional textura of the late thirteenth century"; the rest of the 
manuscript (fols. 49-140) is dated to the fourth decade of the four- 
teenth century .^° The manuscript usefully shows two quite different 
treatments of the Gospel. The first four quires, which are wholly in 
French, contain a prose GN (item 3, fols. 33va-39rb) as part of what 
can be termed a legendary;^^ fols. 55v-56v have a text of the verse 
Middle English Harrowing of Hell.^^ The prose text in this manuscript 

*^ Reproduced by N. R. Ker, intro.. Facsimile of British Museum MS. Harley 
2253, EETS OS, vol. 255 (London: Oxford University Press, 1965); for a description 
of the manuscript, see pp. ix-xxiii. Its dialect is discussed in Angus Mcintosh, 
M. L. Samuels, and Michael Benskin, A Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English, 4 
vols. (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1986), 1:111; 3:175, linguistic profile 
9260 (hereafter cited as LALME). Carter Revard, "Richard Hurd and MS Harley 
2253," Notes and Queries 224 (1979): 199-202, has identified the scribe as one who 
"worked in and around Ludlow during the years 1314-1349"; cf. idem, "Three 
More Holographs in the Hand of the Scribe of MS Harley 2253 in Shrewsbury," 
Notes and Queries 226 (1981): 199-200, and idem, "Scribe of MS Harley 2253," 
Notes and Queries 227 (1982): 62-63. 

™ Ker, Facsimile, xvi and xxi-xxiii. 

'^ Ibid., ix-x. The GN, which is in Ford's "Tradition A" (Alvin E. Ford, ed., 
L'l^vangile de Nicod^me: Les Versions courtes en ancien frangais et en prose. Publica- 
tions romanes et frangaises, vol. 125 [Geneva: Droz, 1973], 22), is followed by 
legendary texts (fols. 39va-41va) for which there are parallels in another AN 
manuscript of the Gospel, London, BL MS. Egerton 2710; see below, n. 53. 

^^ Edited in W. H. Hulme, The Middle English Harrowing of Hell and Gospel of 
Nicodemus, EETS ES, vol. 100 (London: K. Paul, Trench, Triibner, 1908), 1-23; cf. 
Carleton Brown and Rossell Hope Robbins, The Index of Middle English Verse (New 
York: Columbia University Press, 1943), nos. 185, 1258 (hereafter dted as IMEV). 
Discussions, with bibliographies, of ME treatments in verse and prose of texts 
related to the GN are found in Frances A. Foster, "Legends of Jesus and Mary," 
in A Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050-1500, ed. J. Burke Severs, vol. 
2 (The Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1970), 448-50, 640-42. 

Old English and Middle English 219 

is only one among a number of the Gospel found in Anglo-Norman 
manuscripts from the thirteenth century onwards, and French verse 
treatments of it also appear in Anglo-Norman contexts.^ These facts 
are in no way surprising, but they need to be kept in mind when 
assessing the popularity of the text and sources for English versions. 
In origin the Middle English Harrounng of Hell is also thirteenth- 
century and appears in the important miscellany Oxford, Bodl. Lib. 
MS. Digby 86 (fols. 119r-20v), dated to between 1272 and 1282 and 
located to south Worcestershire.^ This is another trilingual miscella- 
ny, and here French is the dominant language. The third manuscript 
containing the Middle English Harrowing of Hell is Edinburgh, National 
Library of Scotland MS. 19. 2. 1 (fols. 35v-37r), the Auchinleck Manu- 
script, dated to the period 1330-40, and almost entirely in English. The 
text is in "Hand A," the language of which has been localized to the 
London/Middlesex border.^ Although there are differences in detail. 

" Paris, Bibliothfeque nationale (BN), MS. f. fr. 19525, fols. 50c-59a: tfie text is 
in Ford's 'Tradition A" {L'txmngile de Nicodhne, 21). London, BL MS. Egerton 
2710, fols. 126ra-32rb: the text is in Ford's "Tradition A" (ibid., 21-22) and is 
followed by the letter of Pilate, the healing of Tiberius, the condemnation of 
Pilate, the Veronica legend and the story of Simon Magus (fols. 132rb-34rb). On 
these two manuscripts see Paul Meyer, "Notice du ms. Egerton 2710 du Mus^ 
Britannique," Bulletin de la Societe des anciens textesfrangais 15 (1889): 72-97, and D. 
W. Russell, ed.. La Vie de Saint Laurent: An Anglo-Norman Poem of the Twelfth 
Century, Anglo-Norman Texts, vol. 34 (London: Westfield College Press, 1976), 1-4. 
Cambridge, Emmanuel College MS. 106, fols. 193r-96v: dated to the fourteenth 
century and localized to Worcestershire (?); see M. R. James, The Western Manu- 
scripts in the Library of Emmanuel College: A Descriptive Catalogue (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1904), 90-94. This text is fragmentary but is in Ford's 
"Tradition A" {L'tvangile de Nicodhne, 22). Another AN text appears in London, 
BL MS. Egerton 613, fols. 13v-21r; this covers EN 12-28, cmd the sequence 
continues with legendairy material such as the healing of Tiberius, the destruction 
of Jerusalem, the Veronica legend, and the finding and exaltation of the holy 
cross (fols. 21r-29v); see Betty HUl, "British Library MS. Egerton 613," Notes arid 
Queries 223 (1978): 398-401. On manuscript contexts in England for versions of the 
Gospel in French verse, see Gaston Paris and Alphonse Bos, eds., Trois Versions 
rimees de I'tvangile de Nicodhne par Chretien, Artdre de Coutances et un anonyme, 
Soci^t^ des anciens textes fran^ais, vol. 22 (1885; repr.. New York: Johnson Reprint 
Corp., 1968), iv-v, xvi-xvii, xlvi-xlvii; see also Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum 
MS. McClean 123, described by Nigel Morgan, Early Gothic Manuscripts [II]: 1250- 
1285, A Survey of Memuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, vol. 4 (London: 
H. Miller Publishers - Oxford University Press, 1988), 193-95, item 187. 

^ The contents are given in GuUebnus D. Macray, Catalogi codicum manuscrip- 
torum Bibliothecae Bodleianae, pars norm, codices a viro clarissimo Kenelm Digby, Esq. 
Aur., anno 1634 donatos, complectens (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1883), 91-97; see 
also B. D. H. Miller, "The Early History of Bodleian MS. Digby 86," Annuale 
mediaevale 4 (1%3): 23-56, and Andrew G. Watson, Catalogue of Dated and Datable 
Manuscripts c. 435-1600 in Oxford Libraries, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), 
1:68. For dialect, see LALME, 1:147, 3:150-51, linguistic profile 7790. 

^ Derek Peairsall and I. C. Cuimingham, intro.. The Auchinleck Manuscript, 

220 C. W. MARX 

in terms of their broad outlines and structure the three versions are 
quite similar; the main differences are in the prologue. Where the 
French text of the Gospel in Harley 2253 is conservative and faithful to 
the Latin, the Middle English Harrowing of Hell is innovative and shows 
an intelligent response to developments in devotion and doctrine. The 
Middle English Harrowing of Hell and its innovations are the result of the 
fresh ways in which the Harrowing of Hell is conceived. One of the 
most important changes is that traditional themes of the Gospel as well 
as some new ones appear in speeches of Christ. The Middle English 
Harrowing of Hell uses Christ's words at the entry into hell, "Hard 
gates haul gon" (v. 27, Digby 86; EN 21.1.3^, 21.2.2-3, 21.3.4-5), but the 
speech is extended into an accoimt of the life, suffering, and Passion of 
Christ; for example: 

Men duden me so muchel same; 

WiJ) wounden stronge makede me lame; 

Hi nomen me wiJ)outen sake, 

Bounden min honden to mi bake. 

Hi beten me ^at I ran ablode. 

And suJ)J?en me duden one pe rode; 

For Adam sunful, iwis, 

Al haul {joled pis. (Vv. 35-42; Digby 86) 

There is no reference in the GN to the suffering of Christ, certainly 
nothing to generate compassion, but incorporated into this speech is an 
aspect of the literature of affective piety, which is all the more compel- 
ling for being so restrained. At the entry into hell in the GN, Satan 
recounts the life of Christ and his preparations to put him to death {EN 
20.1-2); the overriding theme is his ignorance of Christ's true nature. 
In the Middle English Harrowing of Hell it is Christ who expresses this 
theme in a speech to Satan (w. 53-70, Digby 86), which in turn leads 
on to their debate (w. 71-136, Digby 86), another feature for which 
there is no counterpart in the GN. 

Because of the amount of direct speech and debate, the Middle Eng- 
lish Harrowing of Hell has been thought by some to be a short drama or 
a quasi-dramatic text, or possibly a text for recitation.^ That scholars 

National Library of Scotland Advocates' MS. 19. 2. 1 (London: The Scolar Press in 
association with The National Libieuy of Scotland, 1977), vii-xxiv; LALME 1:88, 
3:305-6, linguistic profile for "Hand A" 6510. 

^ Richard Axton, European Drama of the Early Middle Ages (London: Hutchin- 
son University Library, 1974), 114; Alfred W. Pollard, ed., English Miracle Plays 
Moralities and Interludes, 8th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927), xxi, 166-72 (text); 
Carter Revard, "Gilote et lohane: An Interlude in B. L. MS Harley 2253," Studies in 
Philology 79 (1982): 128-29. 

Old English and Middle English 221 

have speculated in this way indicates that it fits uneasily into precon- 
ceived notions of medieval genres. It was adaptable and could be used 
in different contexts as its three manuscripts show. But it was not only 
the possibilities offered by dramatic or quasi-dramatic forms that dic- 
tated the nature of the Middle English Harrowing of Hell. Developments 
in the doctrine of the Redemption show their influence in the debate 
between Christ and Satan, which is at the center of the text, and these 
as much as anything account for the different way in which the Har- 
rowing is conceived. The Middle English Harrowing of Hell, through the 
debate (w. 71-136, Digby 86), offers a view of the Redemption which is 
in line with Anselmian ideas and which has parallels in Latin writing.^ 

Abbreviated Middle English prose versions and the 
literature of the Passion 

The literature of affective piety influenced AN and ME versions of the 
Gospel of Nicodemus in other important ways. London, BL MSS. Royal 
20 B. V and Egerton 2781 contain an AN prose sequence made up of 
two texts: an account of the Passion of Christ narrated by Mary, the 
Complaint of Our Lady, and an account of the Resurrection drawn from 
chapters 12-17 of the GN. The sequence may date from between 1380 
and 1390. L. F. Sandler,^ however, on the basis of the stylistic evi- 
dence of the illuminations, places Egerton 2781 between 1340 and 1350, 
in which case the sequence could date from the early fourteenth cen- 
tury.^' It was translated into ME sometime before 1390 and in this 
form survives in three manuscripts, each of which contains different 
versions: Cambridge, Magdalene College MS. Pepys 2498 (saec. 

^ C. W. Marx, "An Edition and Study of the Conflictus inter Deum et Diabo- 
lum," Medium JEvum 59 (1990): 16-40. The doctrinal context is set out in C. W. 
Marx, The Devil's Rights and the Redemption in the Literature of Medieval England 
(Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1995), 84-88. 

^ Lucy Freeman Sandler, Gothic Manuscripts 1285-1385, A Survey of Manu- 
scripts Illuminated in the British Isles, vol. 5 (London: H. Miller Publishers - 
Oxford University Press, 1986), 2:127-29. 

^ An edition of the AN texts appears in parallel with the ME translations in 
C. W. Marx and J. F. Drennan, eds.. The Middle English Prose Complaint of Our Lady 
and Gospel of Nicodemus, Middle English Texts, vol. 19 (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 
1987). For the argument that these texts form a narrative sequence, see C. W. 
Marx, "Beginnings and Endings: Narrative-linking in Five Manuscripts from the 
Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries and the Problem of Textual 'Integrity,' " in 
Manuscripts and Readers in Fifteenth-Century England, ed. Derek Pearsall (Cam- 
bridge: D. S. Brewer, 1983), 70-81; on the problem of dating the sequence, Marx 
and Drennan, The Middle English Prose Complaint, 14-16. 

222 C. W. MARX 

XIV/2); Leeds, University Library, Brotherton Collection MS. 501 (saec. 
XV med.); and San Marino, Henry Huntington Library MS. HM 144 
(saec. XV/XVI). Although the two texts are distinguished in the manu- 
scripts, it is probable that the sequence was conceived as a whole; 
incorporated into Mary's narrative is the account from GN 12 and 15 
of the imprisonment and release of Joseph of Arimathea, and the text 
of the Gospel in the sequence begins where the episode of the imprison- 
ment finishes. The AN Gospel ofNicodemus is surprisingly brief over the 
Harrowing of Hell, which is summarized in little more than 200 words. 
This was no doubt purposeful: the Resurrection narrative is designed 
to emphasize the figure of Joseph of Arimathea, and a number of 
changes are made in order to give him more prominence.^ 

The Complaint, which occupies approximately three-quarters of the 
sequence, grew out of the literature of affective piety. Mary's account 
modulates between a chronicle-like narrative, using curial prose style, 
and highly charged emotional responses to the suffering of Christ at 
each stage of the Passion; the first mode serves to authenticate the sec- 
ond. The purpose of the text is to generate compassion, a profound 
sympathy with Mary and Christ. Something of this emotionalism is 
carried over into the GN.^^ How is the Gospel being used in this con- 
text? Jeanne Drennan argued that the Gospel is at the basis of the 
sequence and that the compiler replaced its trial and Crucifixion sec- 
tions with the Complaint. ^^ This hypothesis deserves consideration, 
but needs to be modified. It can be restated in this way: the compiler 
had available to him a number of texts, including a complete GN; he 
selected from it only those parts concerned with Joseph of Arimathea 
and the Resurrection. For the Passion he used texts such as the Quis 
dabit, the pseudo-Anselmian Dialogus, and the Meditationes vitae Christi, 
or material related to them.^^ This hypothesis suggests that, in re- 
sponse to contemporary taste for the literature of compassion, the com- 
piler regarded large portions of the GN as obsolete. 

Royal 20 B. V is a composite manuscript in three parts, with the 
majority of items in French and the rest in Latin. The Complaint and 
Gospel appear in the first part and together are the fifth item (fols. 
147r-56r). The first is the New Testament in French, which is followed 
by Latin hymns from the Sarum Breviary, with parallel French trans- 
lations. The manuscript is a miscellany of mainly devotional material. 

^ Marx and Drenriein, The Middle English Prose Complaint, 38-42. 
^' Ibid., 42. 

^^ J. F. Drennan, "The Complaint of Our Lady and Gospel of Nicodemus of MS 
Pepys 2498," Manuscripta 24 (1980): 164-70. 

^^ Marx and Drennan, The Middle English Prose Complaint, 26-37. 

Old English and Middle English 223 

and we may speculate on the basis of its contents that it was owned by 
a secular household rather than a religious institution. Egerton 2781 is 
a book of hours, small in size (110mm x 170mm), with many accretions 
of a devotional nature in Latin and French. The manuscript is heavily 
illustrated and decorated; in the sequence of the Complaint and Gospel 
alone, which together form the last item (fols. 131r-89v), there are 
thirty-six historiated initials. This type of manuscript would have been 
privately owned, and it is a great compendium of verbal and visual 
popular piety .^ 

Pepys 2498 has been located on linguistic grounds to the area 
around Waltham Abbey in Essex.^ The sequence of the Complaint 
and Gospel is the second last item in the manuscript (pp. 449a-63b). All 
the major texts are religious prose and many are translations from 
French: the Pepysian Gospel Harmony (from French; pp. la-43a), the ME 
tTcinslation of Robert Gretham's AN Miroir (pp. 45a-212b), a ME trai\s- 
lation from AN of the Apocalypse (pp. 226b-63b), a ME prose version of 
the Psalter (pp. 263b-370a), and the Ancrene Riwle (pp. 371a-449a). 
Comparisons are invited between Pepys 2498 and the Vernon and 
Simeon manuscripts, but this is altogether a more specialized compila- 
tion. It is a large volume (340mm x 240mm), and its contents are care- 
fully organized with couplets introducing each text, a feature found in 
some French manuscripts.^ It is a useful indicator of the demand for 
didactic and devotional texts in English. H. Leith Spencer has argued 
that the ME Mirror was intended specifically for private lay reading,^^ 
and A. Ian Doyle has suggested that the manuscript as a whole was 
designed for a devout lay community, possibly a large household^ — 
an assessment that fits with the impression gained from the nature of 
the contents. 

Brotherton 501 has been localized to south Lincobishire, and is a 
collection of religious prose and verse, including portions of the Prick 
of Conscience and the South English Legendary. Carelessness in rebinding 

" For accounts of the AN manuscripts, see ibid., 8-9. A fragment of a third 
manuscript, of the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, has come to light; see 
C. W. Marx, "A Newly Identified Fragment of the Anglo-Norman Prose Complaint 
of Our Lady and Gospel of Nicodemus in Cambridge University Library MS Dd. 4. 
35," Notes and Queries 236 (1991): 157-58. 

" Marx and Drennan, The Middle English Prose Complaint, 10-11; LALME 1:64, 
3:124-25, linguistic profile 6260. 

^ Meyer, "Notice," 73. 

^^ H. Leith Spencer, English Preaching in the Late Middle Ages (Oxford: Claren- 
don Press, 1993), 36 and passim. 

** A. Ian Doyle, "A Survey of the Origiiis and Circulation of Theological 
Writings in English in the 14th, 15th and Early 16th Centuries," 2 vols (Ph.D. 
diss., Cambridge University, 1953), 1:106, 2:66-67. 

224 C. W. MARX 

has disrupted the order of the folios. The text of the sequence is closely 
related to that in Pepys 2498, but it has been compressed and consider- 
ably reduced. The purpose of the manuscript is not evident, but it may 
have been a private commonplace book of popular instruction and 
devotion.^^ Huntington HM 144, approximately one hundred years 
later than Pepys 2498 and tentatively located to the Berkshire-Surrey 
region, contains texts of a mainly religious nature and includes Chau- 
cer's Tale of Melibee and Monk's Tale and Lydgate's Churl and the 
Bird7° Here the sequence has undergone major revisions, and in the 
GN portion the Harrowing has been expanded from the roughly two 
hundred words of paraphrase in the AN and its ME translation to a 
narrative.^^ It reveals knowledge of the GN, but it is clear as well that 
the reviser developed the dialogue between Christ and Satan based on 
Psalm 23:7-10 from the Latin of the Vulgate. As a gloss on the tradi- 
tional narrative, the revision emphasizes that the choruses of the saints 
are prophecies of the deliverance from hell, and in addition to those 
figures referred to in the GN, the list includes Abraham, Isaac, and 
Jacob. But the major revision is that new textual boundaries have been 
established in the sequence so that the account of the imprisonment 
and release of Joseph of Arimathea, which appears as part of Mary's 
narrative in the earlier version, is identified as "the stori of loseph of 
Aramathye and Nicodemus."^^ This new division may be the result 
of knowledge of the GN from which the account was originally drawn. 
The larger context of the sequence in the manuscript is also significant: 
following the Gospel are excerpts from Caxton's printing of the Poly- 
chronicon (fols. 54v-64r) which refer to events following the Resurrec- 
tion up to the destruction of Jerusalem. The revisions to the Complaint 
and Gospel may have been designed to accommodate them to an 
encyclopedia or legendary, one that was partly devotional but mainly 

Another sequence of two texts shows a similar use of the GN and 
competition between narrative and devotional impulses. This survives 
in three manuscripts: London, BL MS. Egerton 2658; Manchester, John 
Rylands University Library English MS. 895; and Stonyhurst College 

^ Mcurx and Drennan, The Middle English Prose Complaint, 11-12. The latest 
discussion of the manuscript is by O. S. Pickering, "Brotherton Collection MS 501: 
A Middle English Anthology Reconsidered," Leeds Studies in English, n.s., 21 
(1990): 141-^; for the dialect, see LALME 1:97, 3:258-59, linguistic profile 69. 

^ Marx and Drennan, The Middle English Prose Complaint, 12-13. 

^' Cf. ibid., 134.ME.4-135.ME.2 and 201.50-202.45. 

^ Ibid., 194. 

Old English and Middle English 225 

MS. 43, fols. 21r-96v; all are of the fifteenth century.^ In Egerton 2658 
(fol. 15va) the first item is identified as the "liber Aureus de passidne 
et resurreccione Domini per dominum Bonaventuram Cardinalem," 
which immediately links it to pseudo-Bonaventure's Meditationes vitae 
Christi/^ The identification, however, obscures the eclecticism of the 
text: it is based on chapters 70-98 of the Meditationes vitae Christi, but 
uses many other sources including the GN. After a brief prologue 
summarizing the miracles and ministry of Christ, there follows a 
translation of chapter one of the GN: 

Then aftyr it drow fast toward Estryn, Aimas & Cayphas byss- 
hopys and princis of prestis ordeynyd for pat sere. Dome, 
Datan, Gamabel, ludas. Levy, Neptalim, Alysaunder & othyr 
folk of pe lewys comen to Pylatis & maden hem partys a^ens 
Ihesu & acusyd hym of many dyuerse poyntis & sayden to 
Pylate. . . . (Stonyhurst College MS. 43, fol. 21r)^ 

The sequence begins, therefore, with a portion of the trial of Christ 
before Pilate and the miracle of the standards in EN 1.5-6, but here 
these events are placed before Palm Sunday, and Pilate releases Jesus. 
This expands the episode of the conspiracy of the Jews (Jn. 11:47-53), 
but the effect is to create a second, earlier trial for which there is no 
precedent in the canonical gospels. 

The trial proper in the Meditationes vitae Christi (chap. 76) is brief, 
but in this ME text it is expanded with an account of the dream of 
Pilate's wife, a version of the trial drawn from the gospels and the GN, 
and the remorse and suicide of Judas (Egerton 2658, fols. 5vb-6rb). In 

^ For descriptions of these manuscripts, see British Museum, London, Cata- 
logue of Additions to the Manmcripts in the British Museum in the Years 1882-1887 
(1889; repr., London: Trustees of the British Museimi, 1968), 378; Frank Taylor, 
Supplementary Hand-List of Western Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library (Man- 
chester: The Manchester University Press, 1937), 28; G. A. Lester, The Index of Mid- 
dle English Prose: Handlist II (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1985), 64-65; The Royal 
Commission on Historical Meinuscripts, "The Manuscripts in tiie Library of Stony- 
hurst College, Belonging to the Society of Jesus," in Second Report of the Royal 
Commission on Historical Manuscripts (London: G. E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode, 
1871), 144. An edition of only the ME Gospel of Nicodemus in these three manu- 
scripts and Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS. Bodley 207, has been prepared by Alan W. 
Holden, "The Gospel of Nicodemus in Middle English Prose from British Muse- 
lun MS Egerton 2658, John Rylands English MS 895, Bodleian Library MS Bodley 
207, Stonyhurst MS XLHI" (Master's thesis. University of London, 1951). I am pre- 
paring a critical edition of the whole sequence for the Early English Text Society. 

^* Meditationes vitae Christi, in Opera Omnia S. Bonaventurae, ed. A. C. Peltier, 
vol. 12 (Paris, 1868), 509-630. 

^ Quotations and references will be mainly to the text in Egerton 2658, but 
the manuscript is dcunaged at this point and the text illegible. 

226 C. W. MARX 

the midst of Meditationes chapter 77, the compiler has included a scene 
of the mocking, which is only hinted at in the Latin text, and the 
legend of the holy rood (Egerton 2658, fols. 6vb-7ra). The latter has its 
origins in the GN, but the version given here reflects the development 
of the legend long after it had become independent of that text. Into 
Meditationes chapter 84 the compiler has introduced a long passage on 
the fears of the Jews and their imprisonment of Joseph of Arimathea; 
some of this is from the gospels, but most is taken from the EN 12.1. 
Meditationes chapter 85 concerns Christ's Descent into Hell, but in the 
ME text there are indications of the use of the GN: "Thanne oure Lord 
Ihesus sende hem into Paradys by Mychael pe Archaungel as it is 
more fully declarid herafter" (Egerton 2658, fol. llva). Michael is not 
mentioned in the Meditationes, but what is more significant is the refer- 
ence to a fuller account of the Harrowing which is to follow: namely, 
the version of the GN which appears as the second text in the se- 
quence. Meditationes chapter 89 opens with a reference to the release of 
Joseph of Arimathea from prison; in this ME version, this is a cue to 
use details of the episode from the GN (15.6; Egerton 2658, fol. 12va). 
Finally, after the explicit of this first text, the Gospel begins in this way: 

Now tume we asen to pe proces aforhonde, how it bifeU of 
Joseph of Aramathye whiche pe lewes hadde enprisoned pe 
Saterday. I>e morwe vpon her Sabot day J^ei forsat not Joseph 
of Aramajjie whiche J)ei hadde yputte ynto pe stronge stonen 
house. Pei gadred hem togedres yn here temple and toke here 
rede to slee Joseph (Egerton 2658, fol. 15va). 

This is precisely the point in the Latin EN (12.2) where the earlier 
account of the imprisonment of Joseph left off, and the opening sen- 
tence is careful to link what follows to that episode. This version of the 
Gospel is based quite closely on the Latin text, certainly much more so 
than that in Egerton 2781 and Royal 20. B. V. It consists of translation 
and paraphrase; probably for reasons of economy, but possibly because 
of the exemplar, portions of the original are omitted.'^^ The text con- 
cludes with material from EN 27 and an allusion to the letter of Pilate 
{EN 28; Egerton 2658, fol. 18ra-rb). 

Jn comparison with the AN/ME prose sequence discussed earlier, 
the Gospel is here more prominent: a major element in the compilation 
of the first part and more faithfully represented in the second. What, 
however, is the relationship between the two texts, and how was the 
sequence conceived? As it stands, there are two accounts of the release 

"^^ For example, EN 16.1.1-9 and 17.1.7-12 are linked; cf. Egerton 2658, fol. 

Old English and Middle English 227 

of Joseph of Arimathea, and, while the compiler freely adds new mate- 
rials, he stops short of incorporating the fuU narrative of the Harrow- 
ing from the GN at the point where it is signalled in the Meditationes. 
So, might the sequence as we have it be a later idea and the Gospel an 
addition to the eclectic Passion narrative? The internal cross-references, 
however, and the frequent use of the GN in the first text, suggest that 
the second is more than an appendix, and that the sequence was 
probably conceived as a whole. The texture of this sequence is different 
from the first one we discussed, at least in its AN and earlier ME 
forms; it purposely incorporates more narrative and legendary ele- 
ments into what is essentially a devotional text. At the Scime time, 
however, some additions are clearly meant to increase compassion. 
This sequence is more diverse than the AN one, and although it does 
not show the radical developments found in the version in HM 144, it 
shares something of its encyclopedic character. And this is one of the 
recurring uses of the GN, to fill in gaps and supplement the narrative 
provided by the canonical gospels and other texts. 

Egerton 2658 contains only this sequence. It is a large format 
manuscript: there is evidence of some cropping, and the present page 
size is approximately 330mm x 230mm; in its original form, it probably 
had the same dimensions as Pepys 2498. It consists of 18 medieval 
folios, probably a gathering of 8 and a bifolium: fol. Ir is badly worn, 
and the text has been rubbed away; fol. 18v is blank and shows signs 
of wear. The evidence suggests that the manuscript had a long history 
of independence from a larger compilation and may well have been 
originally published in the form in which it has survived. The script is 
neat and regular, with much gold decoration on illuminated initials, 
and the Latin passages are rubricated. It is not a deluxe manuscript, 
but it is careful and impressive. Assigning a context is difficult: it 
would be equally at home in a religious institution or lay household. 
John Rylands MS. English 895, which is in one hand and located to 
Wiltshire,^ is a more workaday manuscript, but it too consists only 
of this sequence. The loss of folios at the beginning of the manuscript 
and at the point of conjunction of the two texts means that we do not 
know how or if they were identified or differentiated; Lester argues 
that they appeared as separate items.^^ Stonyhurst 43 is in one hand 
but shows three different kinds of language located to "W. Norfolk 
near the Ely border."'^ It is another workaday volume, 170mm x 

^ LALME 1:138, 3:545, linguistic profile 5331. 
^ Lester, The Index, 65. 

^ See LALME 1:165, 3:323-24, linguistic profile 649, where, curiously, Stony- 
hurst 43 is referred to as Stonyhurst 8. 

228 C. W. MARX 

120mm, and our sequence appears with other items:*° (1) Life of St. 
Katherine (fols. lr-19v);*^ (2) the Passion and Resurrection sequence 
(fols. 21r-96v); (3) a popular prayer in ME verse (fols. 96v-97v), begin- 
ning "Ihesu for pi wurthy wounde / That went to \>i hert rote;"*^ 
(4) a short prose text on events leading to the Assumption of the 
Virgin (fols. 97v-98r); (5) The Charter of the Abbey of the Holy Ghost (fols. 
99r-121v).^ The volume is a modest collection of popular piety. The 
Passion and Resurrection sequence is identified with a rubric on fol. 
21r as "Passio Domiru nostri Ihesu Christi, sit nostra salus & pro- 
tectio." Throughout the text rubrics identify different parts of the 
narrative, and that which introduces the GN is typical of these: "Quo- 
modo ludei in die Pasche pariter congregauerunt et fecerunt consilium 
ad interficiendum Joseph ab Armamathia" (Stonyhurst 43, fol. 83r; 
"How the Jews on the day of the Passover gathered together and 
devised a plan to kill Joseph of Arimathea"). But there is no firm 
boundary between the two main parts of the sequence which appear 
in the manuscript as one text. The explicit reads as follows: 

Explicit iste liber a quibusdam vocatus testamentum Nichodemi 
in quo continetur passio Domini nostri Ihesu Christi, resurectio, 
ascendo, pentecoste, et qualiter libro Carynes & Levynes scrip- 
cerunt in templo de lerusalem quomodo Dominus noster Ihesus 
Christus intrauit Infemum & lyberauit Adam et Euam & alios 
sanctos, et postmodum quomodo Pylatus fecit libros de pre- 
dictis materiis in pretorio de lerusalem et misit vnam epistolam 
imperatori Tji^eryo Rome de passione Domini nostri Ihesu 
Christi facta per ludeos in lerusalem, in modo ut scripbitur in 
libro isto. (Stonyhurst 43, fol. 96r-v) 

(Here this books ends which is called by certain ones the 
Testament of Nicodemus; in it is contained the Passion of our 
Lord Jesus Christ, his Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, and 
how in the temple of Jerusalem, Carynes and Levynes wrote 
in a book how our Lord Jesus Christ entered into hell and 
freed Adam and Eve and other saints, and afterwards how 
Pilate ordered records of the foresaid matters to be kept in the 
palace in Jerusalem, and sent a letter to the emperor Tiberius 
at Rome concerning the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ 

** ME prose texts are identified by their index number in R. E. Lewis, N. F. 
Blake, and A. S. G. Edwards, Index of Printed Middle English Prose (New York: Gar- 
Icind, 1985), cited as IPMEP; verse texts by their index number in IMEV. 

*' IPMEP 29. 

^ IMEV 1752. 

^ IPMEP 590. 

Old English and Middle English 229 

which was caused by the Jews in Jerusalem, just as will be 
written in this book.) 

This reviews the contents of what has gone before and identifies the 
whole sequence as the GN, an indication, possibly, of its authority in 
the popular imagination. 

This text of the GN is found also in Oxford, Bodl. Lib. MS. Bodley 
207, fols. 120v-26r;^ the manuscript has been located to Surrey and 
may have been in the possession of Newark Priory. The text of the 
Gospel is independent of the ME version of the Meditationes vitae Christi 
with which it is found in the other three manuscripts, and follows 
instead Nicholas Love's translation (1410).^ Unlike the other three 
manuscripts, this includes the letter of Pilate to Claudius {EN 28) and 
a text of the Cura sanitatis Tiberii (fols. 124r-26r). The Gospel comes after 
the rubricated memorandum attached to the Meditationes on fol. 120v, 
but there is no incipit or explicit to identify the text. Three hands using 
a similar language have been identified in the manuscript, and the 
Gospel and the texts which follow it are coincident with the third. The 
execution is not of the same standard as the other two, as if the Gospel 
were an afterthought. The manuscript is generally in gatherings of 
eight, and fols. 119-26 form the last one. The Meditationes finishes on 
the verso of the second folio of the gathering, so the Gospel and its 
related texts may have been used to fill it in. The question of the pres- 
ence of this text of the Gospel in this manuscript, given its literary rela- 
tions elsewhere, is tantalizing. That it is found in a manuscript of a 
different version of the Meditationes is probably not coincidence but a 
reflection of an association between the two texts in the period before 
Love. Further, the presence of this Gospel in a manuscript of the Love 
text suggests how the officially sanctioned translation made other 
versions obsolete. At the very least, it reveals that even if a sequence of 
texts had been conceived as a whole, scribes or editors still freely used 
parts of it for their own purposes. 

A third sequence involving literature of affective piety and the GN 
appears in Harley 1740 (fols. 5ra-22rb).^ It is identified by the simple 

" Madan and Craster, A Summary Catalogue, 167-68, no. 2021. 

^ For this ME translation of the Meditationes, see Nicholas Love, Nicholas 
Love's "Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ," ed. Michael G. Sargent (New York: 
Garland, 1992). See also Elizabetfi Salter, Nicholas Love's "Myrrour of the Blessed Lyf 
of Jesu Christ," Analecta Cartusiana, vol. 10 (Salzburg: Institut fiir englische 
Sprache und Literatur, Universitat Salzburg, 1974). For tfie dialect of Bodley 207, 
see LALME 1:146, 3:494, linguistic profile 5641. 

^ British Museum, London, A Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts in the 
British Museum, 4 vols. (London: Printed by Command of His Majesty King 
George HI, 1808-12), 2:193. 

230 C. W. MARX 

rubric "Passio Domini Nostri Ihesu Christi" and conceived in a way 
similar to the Quis dabit, that is, as a revelation in answer to a prayer 
for knowledge of the suffering of Christ: 

Ther was a man of religion f)at after his holi deuocion was ri3t 
diligent in his prayers afore Matyns & after, and had an vsage 
custommabli to wake whan his bre|3erin slept. And so he 
stablid in his holi deuocion a brennyng desire to knowe pe 
sondre paynes & anguysches J^at our Lorde Ihesu Criste suf- 
ferd for mankynde. (Harley 1740, fol. 5ra) 

The revelation of the Passion begins, after a brief reference to the Last 
Supper, with the events of the agony in the garden and the betrayal. 
The suffering of Christ is elaborated in great detail, in ways similar to 
those found in other Passion texts, and the compilation frequently 
combines emotional response with doctrinal issues. The Harrowing of 
Hell is introduced to illustrate the idea that Christ's body and soul 
retained their divinity after they were separated at his death. The 
account of the Harrowing begins in this way: 

And anone he descendid to hel, rist brist and ferdful to pe 
feendis. And whan he was come to pe sates of brasse of hell, 
he said, "Open 30ure satis, ^e princes of hell; he shall enter, pe 
kynge of glory." And when [he] herd {^is, J)an J)us seid tho 
Sathan pe prince, "Departe fro me; lo, go oute of my sightes; 
if 30W be euyl fighters howe schall 30we fighte a^ens hym and 
chase hym." Then seid Sathan to his euyll workers, "Shett 
30ure sates of brasse; put J^erto sour barres, and bere f)ere 
asenst fersly f)at we be not taken with our pray J)at we haue 
herein." (Harley 1740, fol. 20ra) 

This passage is drawn from EN 21.1, and the Harrowing uses material 
selectively from this point up to and including EN 25.1-4 (Harley 1740, 
fol. 20vb). Altogether its purpose is to form part of the account of the 
Resurrection. The narrative concludes like a gospel harmony but with 
emphasis on Christ's appearance to Mary (Harley 1740, fol. 22rb). 

In the conclusion no mention is made of the narrative framework, 
that is, the revelation, but immediately following in the same hand is 
a text with the rubric: "Item de passione Christi bona contemplacio" 
(Harley 1740, fol. 22rb-24ra).*^ This is a spiritual exercise addressed 
to a female figure. It fits neatly with the previous narrative, which high- 

*^ Edited in C. W. Marx, "British Library Harley MS. 1740 and Popular 
Devotion," in England in the Fifteenth Century, ed. Nicholas Rogers, Harlaxton 
Medieval Studies, vol. 4 (Stamford: P. Watkins, 1994), 207-22. 

Old English and Middle English 231 

lights the suffering of Christ; it organizes the events of the Passion and 
the instruments of the Passion into a systematic exercise which aims to 
establish spiritual and moral discipline. The two texts are meant to be 
read together, and they complement each other. In its original form the 
manuscript contained orJy these two texts; a later hand has added a 
third item, a ME sermon on the Latin text "Homo quidam fecit cenam 
magam & vocauit multos" (fols. 24rb-29va).** As a whole, the se- 
quence contains four important features of the Meditationes vitae Christi, 
that is, narrative, doctrine, episodes designed to create compassion, 
and instructions for meditation. It is the last feature, lacking from the 
two sequences we discussed earlier, which argues for the greater so- 
phistication of this compiler. 

In this context, as in the other two we have discussed, the GN is 
used selectively; only certain episodes are generally relevant, mainly 
the imprisonment and release of Joseph of Arimathea and the Harrow- 
ing of Hell. Both are testimony of the Resurrection and were used for 
that reason. In these contexts a general preoccupation with emotional 
responses to Christ's suffering has rendered irrelevant large portions 
of the Gospel. Its account of the trial of Christ, the prolonged disputes 
over his identity, and the testimony of the witnesses to his life and 
work must have seemed abstract and legalistic, too lacking in feeling, 
in the light of the potential offered by the literature of affective piety. 

Instructional literature 

Another thirteenth-century context for the Gospel ofNicodemus is the lit- 
erature of instruction which developed in response to the injunctions 
of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) to preach and teach. The South 
English Legendary, a vast and amorphous network of temporale narra- 
tives and saints' lives, is a marufestation of just such a response.*' In 
the South English Legendary only one text uses the GN at all extensively, 
the Harrowing of Hell and Destruction of Jerusalem, which survives in a 
fifteenth-century manuscript located to southeast Norfolk, St. John's 
College, Cambridge, MS. B. 6, fols. 73r-79r. This contains mairUy early 
forms of temporale narratives such as the Ministry and Passion, and the 
Harrowing of Hell and Destruction of Jerusalem is part of this thirteenth- 

^ Veronica M. O'Mara, "A Checklist of Unedited Late Middle English Ser- 
mons That Occur Singly or in Small Groups," Leeds Studies in English, n.s., 19 
(1988): 157. 

^ Derek Pearsall, Old English and Middle English Poetry, The Routledge His- 
tory of English Poetry, vol. 1 (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1977), 102-5; Gor- 
lach. The Textual Tradition. 

232 C. W. MARX 

century group .'^ The text consists of 542 lines and depends for the 
most part on GN chapters 11-27 for w. 1-320, the story of Joseph of 
Arimathea and the Harrowing of Hell, and on Legenda aurea, chapter 
67, "De sancto Jacobo apostolo," for w. 321-542, the destruction of 
Jerusalem. Fewer than ninety lines have no basis in these two sources, 
which the compiler reproduces quite closely but not uncritically. 
Joseph of Arimathea is the luik between the two narratives — an idea 
probably suggested by a passage in chapter 67 of the Legenda aurea: 

In evangelio tamen Nicodemi dicitur, quod cum Judaei ipsum 
[Joseph] reclusissent, Christus resurgens eum inde eripuit et in 
Arimathiam duxit. Potest dici, quod cum eductus a praedicati- 
one Christi non cessaret, a Judaeis iterum est reclusus.^^ 

(However, in the gospel of Nicodemus it is said that although 
the Jews had imprisoned Joseph, the risen Christ released him 
and brought him to Arimathea. It is possible that he was 
imprisoned a second time because, having been released, he 
would not cease from preaching about Christ.) 

This occurs at the end of the account of the destruction of Jerusalem in 
the Legenda aurea and serves to explain the discovery of Joseph impris- 
oned in the city. In linking the two narratives, the Harrowing of Hell and 
Destruction of Jerusalem follows a well established pattern, but the focus 
on Joseph makes the text seem as much a sanctorale as a temporale 

Why the account of the Harrowing should occur outside the main 
temporale narratives of the ministry and Passion of Christ in the South 
English Legendary, particularly the Ministry and Passion, deserves con- 
sideration. The Harrowing of Hell and Destruction of Jerusalem shares 
small passages with the larger narratives, such as the episode of the 
dream of Pilate's wife, which is more logically located in this text than 
in the Ministry and Passion.^^ The best explanation for the indepen- 

^ The Harrowing of Hell and Destruction of Jerusalem is listed in IMEV as item 
3706; it is edited in C. W. Marx, ed.. The Devils' Parliament and the Harrowing of 
Hell and Destruction of Jerusalem, Middle English Texts, vol. 25 (Heidelberg: 
C. Winter, 1993), 115-57. For descriptions and discussions of the manuscript and 
text, see M. R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of St. 
John's College Cambridge (Cambridge: University Press, 1913), 37-38, no. 28; O. S. 
Pickering, "The Temporale Narratives of the South English Legendary," Anglia 91 
(1973): 425-55; idem, ed.. The South English Ministry and Passion, Middle English 
Texts, vol. 16 (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1984), 61-73; Marx, The Devils' Parliament, 
116-17; for the dialect, LALME 1:64, 3:354-55, linguistic profile 4646. 

'^ Jacobus a Voragine, Legenda aurea, 302-3. 

'^ Pickering, The South English Ministry and Passion, 38-40; Meirx, The Devils' 
Parliament, \17-?,\. 

Old English and Middle English 233 

dence of the Harrowing of Hell and Destruction of Jerusalem from ttie 
Ministry and Passion and its related narratives is that the account of the 
imprisonment and release of Joseph of Arimathea followed by the 
Harrowing of Hell {EN 11-27) was too much of a piece and too exten- 
sive to be incorporated into a text like the Ministry and Passion and 
would have overbalanced it. It is only a highly ambitious project, such 
as the Cursor mundi, which could absorb the GN either in part or in its 

The Cursor mundi is dated to around 1300, and includes as part of 
its vast narrative chapters 12-28 of the GN, including the letter of 
Pilate (w. 17289-18582);'^ the exemplar, at least for this portion, was 
probably fairly closely related to EN A. The verse rendering is remark- 
ably faithful to the details of its source, with only minor homiletic 
additions, such as w. 17447-62 on the greed of the soldiers who are 
offered a bribe to suppress their testimony about the Resurrection {EN 
13.3) and w. 17575-94 on the idea that Jesus is to be sought in the 
spirit ("et quaerentes non inuenerunt lesum"; EN 15.1.18-19). The 
Redemption forms the thematic context for the GN. The verse transla- 
tion from the Gospel comes after a number of passages which follow 
the burial of Christ and which reflect on the meaning of the Crucifix- 
ion and the reactions of Mary (w. 16913-17288). The narrative is intro- 
duced with the themes of the Redemption and defeat of the Devil, 

Pat ranscuning wald i of tell, 

I>ou spede me, lauerd! for-to spell 

Hu mighteli J?ou harud hell. 

And queld him Jjat all wald quell (Cotton, w. 17265-68), 

and is prefaced by cin address to Christ which attributes the account to 
the testimony of Nicodemus. Between the end of the Gospel and the 
account of the post-Resurrection appearances is an interlude which, 
like the preface, takes up the significance of the death of Christ and the 
Harrowing of Hell, and concludes with the bestiary imagery of Christ 
the lion (w. 18585-660). The theme is not presented in a self-consciously 
doctrinal fashion, but chapters 12-28 of the GN are introduced into the 
Cursor mundi to dramatize the Redemption. 

Like the Cursor mundi but on a less ambitious scale is the Stanzaic 
Life of Christ, which is placed in the late fourteenth century and is from 
Chester.'** It nms to 10840 lines and was compiled mainly from the 

^ Edited by Richard Morris, Cursor mundi (The Cursor of the World), pt 3, 
EETS OS, vol. 62 (London: K. Paul, Trench, Triibner, 1876), 992-1065. See also 
Pearsall, Old English and Middle English Poetry, 106-7; John Thompson, "Textual 
Interp>olations in the Cotton Manuscript of tiie Cursor Mundi," Neuphilologische 
Mitteilungen 92 (1991): 23-24. 

** Edited by Frances A. Foster, A Stanzaic Life of Christ, EETS OS, vol. 166 

234 C. W. MARX 

Polychronicon and the Legenda aurea. The Stanzaic Life of Christ makes no 
special claims for itself other than, as two early stanzas indicate (w. 9- 
16), to translate Latin instructional writing into English. It uses the por- 
tion of the chapter in the Legenda aurea on the Resurrection which deals 
with the Harrowing of Hell. As we have seen already, the Legenda 
aurea cites two authorities for the Harrowing, the EN and the pseudo- 
Augustinian "Sermo 160: De pascha," which includes parallels with 
EN 22 and 23. The Legenda aurea's text of the EN begins in chapter 18 
with the opening of the narrative of Leucius and Carinus. It is highly 
selective for reasons that reflect certain strategies. More of the text is 
retained where it reflects the theme of fulfilment of prophecies, chap- 
ters 18 and 19 and 26 (the meeting with the Good Thief), or where 
there is an apocalyptic theme, chapter 25, the meeting with Enoch and 
Elijah. The main episodes of the EN appear in some form, including 
much of chapter 20, the dispute between Ir\ferus and Satan on the 
nature of Christ. Omitted entirely are chapters 22 and 23 on Christ's 
conquest of the devils and the reproaches of Inferus to Satan for bring- 
ing about the death of Christ. But these two chapters are represented 
in the extracts from the pseudo-Augustine "Sermo 160" given earlier. 
Their omission probably reflects the astute observation by the compiler 
that they would be repetitious. The dramatic action is reduced to 
essential details, and because of the omission of EN 22 and 23, Christ's 
entry into hell {EN 21) is linked directly to the leading out of the saints 
{EN 24); these episodes form one sentence. This version ends with a brief 
reference, from EN 27, to the transfiguration of Carinus and Leucius. 
The Stanzaic Life of Christ follows the Legenda aurea faithfully and 
includes even the introductory sentences on the subject and its authori- 
ties (w. 7801-8). The extracts from the pseudo-Augustinian sermon 
appear in w. 7809-64 and from the EN in w. 7865-8108. The reader is 
reminded of the nature of the source because the text is interspersed 
with key Latin phrases, such as the command to open the gates of hell, 
but these are translated into ME as well. The translator took few 
liberties with his source, and additions are designed primarily to make 
its sense more explicit; for example, compare the Latin with the ME in 
this instance: ". . . et, cum haec loqueretur, facta est vox ut tonitruum 
dicens" ("and, when he said that, there came a voice like thunder 

(London: H. Milford, 1926); IMEV 1755. See also Ian Johnson, "Prologue and 
Practice: Middle English Lives of Christ," in The Medieval Translator: The Theory 
and Practice of Translation in the Middle Ages, ed. Roger Ellis (Cambridge: D. S. 
Brewer, 1989), 69-85. 

'^ Jacobus a Voragine, Legenda aurea, 244. 

Old English and Middle English 235 

whil Sathan spake to Helle so 

And Helle to Sathanas Aaayn, 

a voice as thonour made was tho 

that all heU dred & had dedayne. (Vv. 7997-8000) 

Nothing is left to chance, and stanzas are very often filled out with 
detail designed to clarify meaning or context. At one point, however, 
the translator forgets that the two sons of Simeon are narrating the 
account and uses the formula "as rede we" (v. 7985). The Stanzaic Life 
of Christ is entirely functional, an avenue which, as part of a larger pro- 
gram of compilation, makes portions of the GN available in the vernac- 
ular for instructional purposes. 

The Metrical Life of Christ is similar in scope to the Stanzaic Life of 
Christ but only half its length.^ It is dated to the early part of the fif- 
teenth century, and the author's language was an East Midlands 
type.^ The manuscript (London, BL MS. Addit. 39996) is in one hand 
located to Leicestershire.'* Scholars have been uncertain whether the 
Metrical Life of Christ was originally one work, but there is little reason 
not to regard it as a single compilation in the form in which it sur- 
vives. Formulae of direct address and lines such as "As 3e seen bifore 
30W here / Pe encense brenne in pe censere" (w. 439-40) suggest that 
it was designed for reading in church. Two portions of the Metrical Life 
of Christ reflect the influence of the GN. The first (w. 3300-449) 
appears in the context of reports of the Resurrection (w. 3221-99) and 
uses as its framework the story of the sons of Simeon, that is, GN 17- 
27. The compUer is using the Gospel, but, where the Stanzaic Life cf 
Christ slavishly reproduces its source, the Metrical Life of Christ presents 
a lively, brisk, and in many ways independent account of the Harrow- 
ing. The compiler is prepared to adapt materials from the GN to new 
purposes. He takes Satan's speech on the conflict between himself and 
Christ, addressed to Inferus {EN 20.1), and uses it to show that Satan 
realized the identity of Christ only at the Crucifixion (w. 3352-61); his 
return to hell in this version is to announce the defeat of the devils (w. 
3362-65). This is a major reinterpretation of the Gospel. There are other 
additions but the most important is Christ's extended speech (w. 
3388-407) in which he explains the Redemption and the fate of the 
devils in hell. In the GN Christ says little at the Harrowing of Hell, so 
this speech represents an important innovation. It does not have the 
same implications as the debate between Christ and Satan in the Mid- 

^ Edited by Walter Sauer, The Metrical Life of Christ, Middle English Texts, 
vol. 5 (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1977). 
^ Ibid., 9-11. 
^ LALME 1:102, 3:237-38, linguistic profile 300. 

236 C. W. MARX 

die English Harrowing of Hell, but it creates a more human Christ who 
is also a teacher of doctrine. The Metrical Life of Christ does not go as 
far as the Middle English Harrowing of Hell in reinterpreting the Harrow- 
ing of Hell in the GN, but it shows a freedom in the use of the source, 
which makes the vernacular tradition seem less of a slave to the Latin. 

The second part of the Metrical Life of Christ to use the GN is the 
account of the imprisorunent and release of Joseph of Arimathea (w. 
4138-307). This comes after the post-Resurrection appearances of Christ 
and the making of the creed. It uses the source freely to develop the 
theme of the treachery of the Jews against Joseph: vv. 4138-83 are 
based loosely on EN 12.1, his imprisonment; w. 4184-211 on EN 15.6, 
his release; w. 4212-51 on details in EN 12.2, the discovery that he was 
not in the prison, and EN 15.2-5, his return to Jerusalem; and w. 4252- 
77 on EN 14, the bribing of the witnesses to the Resurrection. The rest 
of the episode (w. 4278-307) has no basis in the Gospel but uses the 
idea found in the Legenda aurea and the Harrowing of Hell and Destruc- 
tion of Jerusalem that Joseph was imprisoned a second time. Like the 
other two texts, the Metrical Life of Christ narrates the discovery of 
Joseph by Titus fifty years later at the destruction of Jerusalem, but this 
is treated separately (w. 4788-821). For the compiler of the Metrical Life 
of Christ the integrity of the source clearly took second place to larger 
narrative strategies. 

The GN appears in ME verse in a version independent of other 
narratives and including episodes from the trial to the Harrowing.^ 
The ME Stanzaic Gospel of Nicodemus, because it is known to have been 
used in the York cycle, can be dated to before 1378 and is probably as 
early as the first quarter of the fourteenth century.^°° It survives in 
four manuscripts, all with some variations: London, BL MSS. Cotton 
Galba E. IX, fols. 57v-66v (G); Harley 4196, fols. 206r-15r (H); Addit. 
32578, fols. \\6v-AQv (A); and London, Sion College Arc. L. 40. 2/E. 25, 
fols. 13r-38v (S). The forms of language of G, H, and S are character- 
ized as "fully northern," while that of A is located to "north east 
Lancashire, or possibly extreme west Yorkshire."^"^ The stanza form 

^ Edited in W. H. Hulme, The Middle English Harrowing of Hell, 22-136; IMEV 

^°° Pearsall, Old English and Middle English Poetry, 297; Foster, "Legends," 448- 
49, 640-41. 

'°' On Cotton Galba E. IX, see Robert E. Lewis and Angus Mcintosh, A 
Descriptive Guide to the Manuscripts of the "Prick of Conscience," Medium y€vum 
Monographs, n.s., vol. 12 (Oxford: Society for the Study of Medieval Languages 
and Literature, 1982), 58-59; on Harley 4196, ibid., 66-67, and Saara Nevalinna, 
ed.. The Northern Homily Cycle: The Expanded Version in MSS Harley 4196 and Cot- 
ton Tiberius E VII, vol. 1, From Advent to Septuagesima, M^moires de la Soci^t^ n^- 
philologique de Helsinki, vol. 38 (Helsinki: Sod^t^ ntophilologique, 1972), 5-11; 

Old English and Middle English 237 

is 12 lines rhyming a. b. a. b. a. b. a. b. c. d. c. d. The text is a transla- 
tion of the GN related to the version in Ford's French manuscripts "E" 
(Paris, BN MS. f. fr. 1850, fols. 78r-92v, saec. XXH) and "V" (Oxford, 
Queen's College MS. 304, fols. lc-5c, saec. XV/2): there are at least 
seven instances where lines in the Stanzaic Gospel of Nicodemus have 
parallels in passages peculiar to this French recension.^"^ Lindstrom 
states that these passages have no counterparts in known Latin manu- 
scripts, but Izydorczyk's brief account of what he identifies as the Latin 
EN C shows two parallels.^°^ Further work on this Latin recension 
might reveal that all the passages identified by Lindstrom as unique to 
the French have a basis in it; and in a recent article, Zbigniew Izydor- 
czyk assembles evidence to show the dose links between a Latin 
recension intimately related to EN C and the recension of the French 
translation represented by Ford's manuscripts "E" and "J!,"^^ This 
would open up the question of the origin of the ME text, the linguistic 
evidence for which is obscured by the nature of the translation itself. 
Nevertheless, it can be associated with a specific textual tradition. 

The translation is not literal, and the source is often simplified. 
One strategy was to substitute a sustained speech for passages of argu- 
ment with frequent changes of speaker. For example, the dispute 
between Christ and Pilate about the nature of truth is cut short, and 
Christ is given a speech on the theme (w. 349-60; EN 3.2.13-18).^°^ 
The same feature is apparent in w. 423-32, where the translator has 
overridden the dialogue in which Pilate questions the actior\s of the 

on Addit. 32578, see Lewis and Mcintosh, A Descriptive Guide, 7&-77; on Sion Col- 
lege Arc. L. 40. 2/E. 25, see ibid., 82-83, and N. R. Ker, Medieval Manuscripts in 
British Libraries, vol. 1, London (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 289. For dialects, 
see LALME 1:101, 106, 113, 137; 3:213, linguistic profUe 365 for "A," 670-71, lin- 
guistic profile 481 for "Hand B" in "S." 

*•" The French text of the GN in Paris, BN MS. f. ft-. 1850 ("E") is printed as 
text "C" in Bengt Lindstrom, ed., A Late Middle English Version of the Gospel of 
Nicodemus Edited from British Museum MS Hurley 149, Acta Universitatis Upsal- 
iensis, Studia Anglistica Upsaliensia, vol. 18 (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1974), 
44-129. "E" and "F" are collated with the base text of "Tradition A" in Ford, 
L'tvangile de Nicodhne, 41-71; see also ibid., 22-23. The correspondences are: w. 
121-28 (lindstrom, A Late Middle English Version, 48."C".22); w. 387-92 (ibid., 
58."C".11-13, and 132); w. 455-64 (ibid., 61."C".18-62."C".25, and 133); w. 511- 
16 (ibid., 65."C".1-66."C".2, and 134); w. 661-68 (ibid., 74."C".17-18, and 136); 
w. 691-712 (ibid., 76."C".2-10, and 136); w. 1409-20 (ibid., lll."C".22-29 and 
lll."C".l, and 144). An eighth parallel is probably w. 423-28 (ibid., 59."C".24- 
60."C".26, and 133). 

103 " jj^g Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," 182. 

'"* I am gratehil to Zbigniew Izydorczyk for allowing me to consult his essay, 
"The Latin Source of an Old French Gospel of Nicodemus," before it appeared in 
Revue d'histoire des textes 25 (1995): 265-79. 

^°^ Lindstrom, A Late Middle English Version, 57."C".19-24. 

238 C. W. MARX 

Jews; they simply assert their reasons for condemning Christ (EN 4.4- 
5).^''^ Another strategy is wholesale abbreviation. The third para- 
graph of EN 20 is omitted, but the command of Inferus not to bring 
Christ into hell has been moved in the translation from that context to 
replace the opening sentence of the second paragraph, vv. 1309-14.^°'' 
This policy to compress and abbreviate is most evident in the latter 
part of the text, where, for example, vv. 1533-36 sunmiarize a large 
portion of EN 24: "ilk prophet J?us gan tell / of |)aire awin prophecy 
/ how he suld hery hell / how he suld for J)am dy" (G; EN 24.3.1- 
13).^°* The style of the Harrowing of Hell sequence in the Latin EN 
is less sparse and more complex than that of the earlier part; the trans- 
lator may have found that his skill was stretched in tiiis area of his 
source and, therefore, sought ways to bypass large portions of text. 

But not all the variations from the source are omissions. In some 
instances the translator would appear to be adding to the text as the 
result of various sorts of pressures. The account of the flagellation of 
Christ is embellished in w. 601-12 under the influence of well estab- 
lished traditions of affective piety: "a crown of thorn ful sare / to 
threst J)ai haue bygun / on his heuid, till pe hare / was all of blude 
biron" (G, w. 609-12; EN 10.1.1-4);^°^ and the speech of Isaiah in 
hell is expanded to emphasize the theme of the fulfilment of prophecy 
(w. 1195-200; EN 18.1.13-19)."° In places the translator simply failed 
to understand the source text: he does not keep the distinction between 
Satan and Inferus ("Sone efter J)at spak satanas / J)at mayster was in 
hell," G, w. 1285-86) and must use some vague figures referred to as 
"{)ai," presumably devils, to take on the speeches of Inferus. 

The texts in the four manuscripts differ in some ways. G and H 
have an additional stanza (w. 181-92) which attributes the dream of 
Pilate's wife to the Devil. It is impossible to determine if this stanza is 
original or later embellishment, but it indicates the extent to which this 
explanation of the episode was current and exerted pressure on a 
version of the GN}^^ The closing part of the text shows the most 
variation among the four manuscripts. The source included the rare 
"chapter 28," which does not appear in the codex Einsidlensis but which 
Tischendorf gives in his edition: here the Jews calculate the time at 
which Christ was due to appear and find that Jesus has fulfilled the 

^•^ Ibid., 59."C".19-60."C".29 and "C".l-4. 
^•^ Ibid., 106."C".3-107."C".17. 
^°^ Ibid., 119."C".14-23. 
^°^ Ibid., 71."C".16-20. 
"° Ibid., 99."C".2-100."C".8. 

"^ An account of the Latin tradition of commentary on the dream appears in 
C. W. Marx, The Devil's Rights, 52-53. 

Old English and Middle English 239 

prophecy. The translator began with this at v. 1661, and G, H, and S 
follow it to the end: v. 1747 in G and H and v. 1746 in S.^^^ The final 
stanza in S (w. 1741-52) represents probably the original ending, with 
tiie last six lines (w. 1747-52) composed to provide a conclusion. 
G and H contain additional lines, two half star\zas: w. 1748-54 use the 
prophecy of Isaiah 11:1, and w. 1755-56 ("Jjan may we se, sir, J)us- 
gates est / he was god sun of mightes maste," G) can be linked to 
another textual tradition of the £N."^ G and H, w. 1748-56, may 
reflect a variant text of the GN which a later compiler used. A sum- 
marizes w. 1717 to the end in two lines, "He was gods son verray / 
{>at we gaffe dedys wounde" (A, w. 1715-16). These create the context 
for the letter of Pilate to Claudius as the conclusion, but w. 1717-28 
describing the remorse of Pilate add an emotional element not found 
in the EN. The letter itself (A, w. 1729-812) appears in versions of the 
Latin {EN 28) and follows the GN in OF and AN manuscripts."* The 
letter of Pilate clearly remained closely associated with the GN, and its 
influence was such that at least one compiler was provoked to this 
kind of extensive revision. 

Even this brief discussion of the Stanzaic Gospel ofNicodemus shows 
that it is much more eclectic than Hulme suggested;"^ the translator 
was adapting the source in the light of his skills and contemporary 
tastes. But what function did the text have? The manuscripts offer 
some suggestions. G and H, both from the end of the fourteenth 
century, are large professional, if not commercial, productions (G, 114 
fols., 355mm x 215mm; H, 258 fols., 380mm x 265mm), carefully 
written in double columns. A and S, dated respectively to 1405 and the 
turn of the fourteenth to the fifteenth centuries, are smaller, more 
pedestrian manuscripts but substantial nevertheless. The Prick of 
Conscience is common to all four, and this aligns the Stanzaic Gospel of 
Nicodemus with the popular theological and instructional literature 
which that text reflects."^ The Prick of Conscience (w. 6529-46) itself 
uses the GN as an authority for the pains of hell, and this is a further 
indication of how the apocryphon was read. Much of the other con- 
tents of these four manuscripts is also instructional and didactic verse, 
for example the Expanded Northern Homily Cycle and Tractatus de legenda 

"^ Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha, 409-12; Lindstrom, A Late Middle English 
Version, 126-29. 

"' Tischendorf, Exmngelia apocrypha, 412, appctratus for D. 

"* For example, London BL MSS. Egerton 2710, fol. 132ib-va, and Harley 
2253, fol. 39rb-va. 

"^ Hulme, The Middle English Harroimng of Hell, xv-xvi. 

"* Lewis and Mcintosh, A Descriptive Guide, 1-5. 

240 C. W. MARX 

sanctorum in H/^^ the creed poem^^* and Templum Dominf^^ in A, 
and the verse treatise on shrift^^° and Lamentations of Our Lady to 
Saint Bemard^^^ in S. Only G shows any variety, but this miscellany 
includes religious as well as secular literature.^^ The manuscripts 
suggest that this version of the GN was used for instructional purposes 
in the manner of homiletic and legendary texts as well as popularizing 
treatises on doctrine. It is not difficult to imagine how this ME Gospel 
of Nicodemus could be seen to fulfil all these purposes. A measure of 
tiie success with which it made the Latin Evangelium Nicodemi accessi- 
ble is its use in vernacular drama. 

Middle English drama 

Texts like the Stanzaic Gospel of Nicodemus and the Stanzaic Life of Christ 
were originally of interest to scholars because they could be shown to 
have been used in the composition of the English mystery plays. Their 
importance as reflections of popular piety was secondary. It has been 
argued that much of the Harrowing of Hell play in the Chester mys- 
tery cycle^^ can be traced to the Stanzaic Life of Christ}^* Apart 
from a few lines of narrative-linking, the Chester Harrowing play uses 
material corresponding to Stanzaic Life of Christ w. 7893-8104, that is, 
from the speech of Adam in hell to the entry of the saints into para- 
dise. In their commentary on this play, Lumiansky and Mills present 
a confusing picture of the sources, but the evidence of w. 169-76 is 
decisive: the ordering of Satan to leave his seat and fight on behalf of 
the devils has no counterpart in the Legenda aurea or Stanzaic Life of 
Christ but is based on EN 21.1.5-8.^^ This suggests that the play- 
wright knew the GN in some form apart from the Legenda aurea or 
Stanzaic Life of Christ and turned to it when he needed lines for a 
dramatic episode. More importantly we see the value of a text like the 

"^ Ibid., 66-67; Nevanlinna, The Northern Homily, 6. 

"« IMEV 2700. 

"' Ibid., %7. 

'^ Ibid., 557.3. 

"^ Ibid., 771 and 1869. 

'^ Pearsall, Old English and Middle English Poetry, 122 and 297. 

'^ R. M. Lumiansky and David Mills, eds.. The Chester Mystery Cycle, 2 vols., 
EETS SS, vols. 3 and 9 (London: Oxford University Press, 1974-86), 1:325-39; 

^^* Robert H. Wilson, "The Stanzaic Life of Christ and the Chester Plays," 
Studies in Philology 28 (1931): 413-32. 

'" Lumiansky and Mills, The Chester Mystery Cycle, 2:270. 

Old English and Middle English 241 

Stanzaic Life of Christ to a dramatist it was more convenient to work 
from a precis and only occasionally turn to the original. Other addi- 
tions are aimed at highlighting the Redemption by using the language 
of popular theology, such as ransom and the four daughters of God 
(w. 61-62; 68-70; 215-20); and Satan's admission in w. 181-82 of guilt 
for Adam's Fall has doctrinal implications.^^^ The episode of the ale- 
wife at the end of the play (w. 277-336), however, serves only dramat- 
ic purposes.^^ For the most part the play relies heavily on material 
from ti\e GN mediated through the Legenda aurea and the Stanzaic Life 
of Christ, but its doctrinal themes have been updated. 

The GN appears in a very different way in the York cycle, where 
it is used in a series of plays beginning with "Christ before Armas and 
Caiaphas" and ending with "the Resurrection."^^ For the most part 
it supplies only episodes and incidents, although it is the main source 
for the Harrowing of Hell play. There is general agreement that the 
compiler used the ME Stanzaic Gospel of Nicodemus; verbal echoes are 
evident in at least six plays: 29 "Christ before Annas and Caiaphas," 
30 "Christ before PUate 1: The Dream of PUate's Wife," 33 "Christ 
before Pilate 2: The Judgement," 36 "The Death of Christ," 37 "The 
Harrowing of Hell" (also, Towneley 25), 38 "The Resurrection" (also, 
Towneley 26).^^ These are relatively few but sufficient to coi\finn 
that this is a version which the dramatist used and to suggest some- 

'^ C. W. Marx, "The Problem of the Doctrine of the Redemption in the ME 
Mystery Plays and the Cornish Ordinalia," Medium JEvum 54 (19815): 24-25. 

^^ R. M. Lumiansky, "Comedy and Theme in the Chester Harrowing of 
Hell," Tulane Studies in English 10 (1960): 5-12; Axton, European Drama, 183-84. 

'^ Richard Beadle, ed.. The York Plays, York Medieval Texts, 2d ser. (London: 
E. Arnold, 1982), 242-355. 

'^ Martin Stevens and A. C. Cawley, eds.. The Towneley Plays, 2 vols., EETS 
SS, vols. 13 and 14 (London: Oxford University Press, 1994). Scholars have not 
always given the same list of the York plays which use tiie Stanzaic Gospel of 
Nicodemus. W. A. Craigie, "The Gospel of Nicodemus and the York Mystery Plays," 
in An English Miscellany Presented to Dr. Fumivall in Honour of His Seventy-fifth 
Birthday (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901), 54, dtes York 37, w. 229-31, as a bor- 
rowing from the Stanzaic Gospel, w. 25-27, but fails to notice the obvious borrow- 
ing of the same lines in York 29, w. 52-55. Other lines of this part of the play can 
be traced back to the Stanzaic Gospel: compare York 29, w. 35-55, and Stanzaic 
Gospel, w. 21-44. E. G. Clark, "The York Plays and Ae Gospel of Nichodemus," 
PMLA 43 (1928): 153, includes York 39 "Christ's Appearance to Mary Magdalene" 
in her list but not York 29; however, in her discussion (158), even though she 
repeats the error, she dearly intends York 29. Grace Frank, "On the Relation 
between ti\e York and Towneley Plays," PMLA 44 (1929): 315, perpetuates Clark's 
error and indudes York 39 among the plays which use the Stanzaic Gospel; she 
says nothing about York 29. York 39, w. 38-149, and Towneley 26, w. 580-659, 
may be related, but they contain nothing from the GN. The Towneley plays figure 
in ttiis discussion only where they sh<ire with York. 

242 C. W. MARX 

thing about his practice of compilation: he probably knew his sources 
thoroughly — possibly even from memory — and used them mainly as 
cribs; he was more independent than the compiler of the Chester cycle. 

Certain substantial episodes, even if they show only a few verbal 
parallels and are extensively embellished, are ultimately based on the 
GN. The episode of the beadle and the miracle of the standards is 
dramatized over two plays (30, w. 307-97, and 33, w. 138-293),^^ 
and 33 continues with details of the trial from the GN}^^ The "Har- 
rowing of Hell" (play 37) is firmly rooted in the Stanzaic Gospel ofNico- 
demus, w. 1160-568, that is, from the chorus of the saints at the entry 
of Christ into hell to the entrusting of the souls to Michael.^^^ Most 
of the episodes in the play find parallels in the Stanzaic Gospel, al- 
though the compiler treated some familiar ones in different ways. The 
first dispute among the devils (vv. 97-120) is modelled on GN 20, but 
the terms are different. The second dispute (w. 133-80) concerns the 
identity of Christ and shows thematic parallels with GN 20. As we 
have pointed out already, the Stanzaic Gospel has omitted chapter 20.3, 
and therefore all mention of the raising of Lazarus; the play, however, 
has two references to it (vv. 161-62, 171-72). The compiler therefore 
did not use only the Stanzaic Gospel but had access to another version. 
The major innovation in the play is the debate between Jesus and Satan 
(w. 213-334), which replaces the dispute among the devils in GN 23. 
This effectively changes how the doctrine of the Redemption is pre- 
sented so that more modern ideas become part of the drama. In this 
respect the play of the Harrowing is like the Middle English Harrowing 
of Hell in that it is a reinterpretation of the episode."^ 

The presence of the GN in the N-Town Passion Play is less easy to 
detect; indeed, a recent editor is inclined to see little direct influ- 
ence.^^* This view, however, ignores the debt which some episodes 
and ways of dramatizing themes owe to the GN. The prologue in 
which Demon recounts Christian history (47-51, w. 1-124) develops 
the theme of the Devil's confusion over the identity of Christ and his 

^^ Stanzaic Gospel, w. 61-176; EN 1.2-6; Lindstrom, A Late Middle English 
Version, A6."C".26-50."C".U. 

"^ York play 33, w. 296-327; Stanzaic Gospel, w. 217-24, 301-24; EN 2.2 and 
3.1; Lindstrom, A Late Middle English Version, 52."C".23-26 and 55."C".5- 

"2 Lindstrom, A Late Middle English Version, 98."C".21-121."C".4; EN 18-25. 

^^ Marx, "The Problem of the Doctrine of Redemption," 20-32. 

134 pgtej. Meredith, ed.. The Passion Play from the N. Town Manuscript (London: 
Longman, 1990), 22. All subsequent references are to Meredith's edition. Another 
edition was prepared for the Early English Text Society by Stephen Spector, ed.. 
The N-Town Play: Cotton MS Vespasian D. 8, 2 vols., EETS SS, vols. 11 and 12 
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). 

Old English and Middle English 243 

plot against him (48-49, w. 25-60). This aspect of the prologue is 
based ultimately on two speeches of Satan in the GN before Christ 
enters hell (£N 20.1 and 20.2.13-19); in "Passion Play 1" the theme is 
given a new context and is much expanded, but the debt is obvious. A 
portion of the speech of Satan in the episode of the dream of Pilate's 
wife in "Passion Play 2" (109, w. 499-523) is even more clearly based 
on the passage in the GN just referred to. The Devil's order to Satan 
not to bring Christ into hell (110, w. 524-27) is derived from the 
speech of Inferus in the Gospel (EN 20.3.12-26). The scene continues 
with Satan's change of mind and attempt to prevent the Crucifixion 
through the dream, something which does not appear in the Gospel but 
which is developed in this context in other texts which use it, most 
notably the Harrowing of Hell and Destruction of Jerusalem}^ 

The Harrowing of Hell is treated in two parts in "Passion Play 2" 
(130-31, w. 993-1042, and 144^6, w. 1368-439). To say that "more 
than in any of the cycles it arises from a traditional understanding of 
the incident"^^ is misleading. The compiler was familiar with the 
GN, and it provided a pattern for some of the episodes in the two 
parts: the entry of Christ into hell (130-31, w. 1017-26; EN 21), the rec- 
ognition by the devils of Christ's identity and that they have been 
overcome by him (131, w. 1027-34; EN 22), Christ's taking the souls 
from hell, and the chorus of the saints (144-45, w. 1368-407; EN 24). 
The figure of Christ is central to both parts, and his speeches carry the 
doctrinal import; this contrasts with the GN. The second part reflects 
the theme of GN 24, Christ taking the souls from hell, but, except for 
V. 1368 (cf. EN 24.1.2), there are no verbal echoes, and the chorus of the 
saints includes Eve, John the Baptist and Abraham. The presence of 
Eve among the saints (144, w. 1384-91) and the episode of the binding 
of Satan (w. 1408-31) recall the variant text, Tischendorf's Latin B.^^^ 
On the other hand, w. 1440-41 and 1443 (146) appear to be based on 
the Middle English Harrowing of Hell, and this text may be the source of 
some of the features of the episode not found in the more common 
version of the GN}^ More so than any of the others, this presenta- 
tion is a radical reinterpretation of the Harrowing, both dramatically 
and doctrinally.^^' 

'^ Marx, The Devils' Parliament, 128-29; 138, w. 197-210. 

'^ Meredith, The Passion Play, 22. 

"^ Ibid., 145; Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha, 429-30. 

'^ It is generally agreed (Meredith, The Passion Play, 220) that w. 1440-41 
and 1443 are based on the Middle English Harrowing of Hell, w. 43-44 and 45 
(Auchinleck). See Middle English Harrowing of Hell, w. 115-256, Digby 86. 

'^ Marx, "The Problem of the Doctrine of Redemption," 20-24. 

244 C. W. MARX 

Piers Plowman and The Devils' Parliament 

For all its distinctiveness Piers Plowman is in part a product of the 
didactic tradition to which we have been referring in connection with 
the drama. Langland's knowledge of the GN in some form is not in 
doubt, but he used it mostiy for general themes and structures. The 
speech of Book shows that Langland knew the story of the two sons of 
Simeon, although he made no use of them as narrators: 

Loo, hell myhte nat holde, bote opened tho god tholede 
And lette out Symondes sones to sen hym honge on rode. 
(C 20.258-59; cf. B 18.249-50)^^ 

Langland's version of the Harrowing (B 18.261^06 / C 20.269-449) fol- 
lows the outlines of GN 18-27. After the command to open the gates of 
hell (B 18.261-65 / C 20.269-73), there is a dispute among the devils 
(B 18.266-315 / C 20.274-349). Apart from Christ's commands and 
some brief phrases, however, only the following speech of Satan, 
which occurs in the dispute, echoes even faintiy a substantial passage 
in the GN: 

Suche a lyht aaenes oure leue Lazar hit fette; 
Care and combraunce is come to vs all. 
Yf this kyng come in, mankynde wol he fecche 
And lede hit per Lazar is and lihtiiche me bynde. 
Patriarkes and prophetes haen parled herof longe 
That such a lord and a lihte shal lede hem all hennes. 
(C 20.275-80; cf. B 18.267-72) 

These lines recall the speech of Inferus in EN 20.3. Skeat suggested that 
Langland may have used the account of the Harrowing in the Legenda 
aurea, but here Langland follows what is explicit in the EN and only 
implicit in the abbreviated version of the speech in the Legenda, namely 
Satan's fear that if Christ enters hell he will rescue mankind.^*^ In the 
course of the dispute in Piers Plowman, the devils come to realize that 
through the actions of Lucifer they will lose their power. This is the 
theme of GN 20 and 23, but the terms of the arguments are different. 

^*° Quotations are from William Langland, Piers Plowman: An Edition of the 
C-Text, ed. Derek Pearsall, York Medieval Texts, 2d ser. (Berkeley: University of 
CaUfomia Press, 1978); references to version B are to WiUijiin Langland, Piers 
Plowman: The B Version, ed. George Kane and E. Talbot Donaldson (London: The 
Athlone Press, 1975). 

^*^ William Langland, The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman, ed. 
W. W. Skeat, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1886), 2:247; Jacobus a Voragine, 
Legenda aurea, 243-44. 

Old English and Middle English 245 

Langland then compresses several episcxles into eleven lines (B 18.316- 
21b I Q 20.359-69): die second command of Christ, a dialogue between 
Christ and Lucifer, the breaking of the gates, references to speeches by 
the saints in hell and John the Baptist, the blinding of Lucifer, and 
finally Christ drawing the saints to him. OrUy some of these have 
counterparts in the GN, but the speeches of the saints echo briefly EN 
18.1.16-18 and 18.3.6-8: 

Patriarkes and profetes, populus in tenebris, 
Songen with seynt lohan "Ecce agnus dei!" 
(C 20.366-67; cf. B 18.323-24) 

Christ then enters hell and, in his speech to Lucifer, justifies the Re- 
demption (B 18.327-403 / C 20.370-446). Langland's version of the Har- 
rowing, while it uses some aspects of the GN, is a reinterpretation of 
the episode in the light of ideas on the Redemption which followed in 
the tradition of Anselm. This more than anything else accounts for the 
differences of substance between the treatments of the Harrowing in 
Piers Plowman and the GN, a feature of Langland's thought which 
recent discussions of the episode have failed to appreciate.^*^ 

In terms of its theology, Langland's version is similar to the Middle 
English Harromng of Hell and the York and Towneley play of the Har- 
rowing. Something which remaii\s puzzling, however, is why Lang- 
land did not present Christ disputing with Lucifer or Satan as in these 
two texts and others. One answer may be that, even if Langland did 
not use the theology of the GN, he followed its dramatic structure. In 
the Gospel the devils, Satan, and Inferus dispute with each other, not 
with Christ, and they come to realize they will lose their power. 
Christ's entry into hell is then a show of force which demonstrates his 
conquest. Langland's version has a similar pattern: after a dispute 
among the devils, Christ enters as the victor and, although he makes 
a speech justifying the release of man, he does not engage in argument. 

A reinterpretation of the Harrowing along similar lines appears in 
the Devils' Parliament, probably of the first half of the fifteenth century 
and located to the East Midlands.^^ There are two medieval manu- 

'*^ These include Malcolm Godden, The Making of "Piers Ploitmum" (London: 
Oxford University Press, 1990), 138-51; James Simpson, "Piers Plowman": An Intro- 
duction to the B-text (London: Longman, 1990), 208-16; R. A. Waldron, "Langland's 
Originality: The Christ-Knight and the Harrowing of Hell," in Medieval English 
Religious and Ethical Literature: Essays in Honour ofG. H. Russell, ed. Gregory Kratz- 
mann and James Simpson (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1986), 66-81. On Langland's 
treatment of the Redemption, see Marx, The Devil's Rights, 100-113. 

'*3 IMEV 3992. 

246 C. W. MARX 

scripts; the language of London, BL MS. Addit. 37^92, has been tenta- 
tively located to Essex, while the language of London, Lambeth Palace 
Library MS. 853, is mixed, with elements from South Huntingtonshire, 
East Northamptonshire or North Bedfordshire predominating.^*^ The 
Devils' Parliament is a verse sermon and survives in two versions. It 
uses the Harrowing of Hell as a climax for a narrative by the Devil of 
the life of Christ. This text is indebted to the GN for at least three pas- 
sages: (1) the command at the gates of hell and the question and reply 
concerning the identity of Christ (A 259-68 / B 251-60; EN 21.3.3-12), 
(2) the second command to open the gates and the rescuing of Adam 
and Eve (A 321-28 / B 353-60; EN 21.3.3-5, 21.3.16-19, and 24.2.1-6), 
and (3) part of the chorus of the saints as Christ is about to take them 
out of hell. This third instance illustrates how material from the Gospel 
is used with other sources: 

Quod Dauid, "Y tolde of on ful grym 

That schuld tobrestyn brasyn satys," 

Quod Zacarye, "& visite hys folke & out nyme 

And leue behynde that hym hatys," 

Quod Symeon, "Ly3t ys folke in dym; 

Lo derkenys leseth hys statys." 

Quod Baptyst, "Thys lombe Y tolde of hym 

That the worldys synne abatys." (A 337-44; cf. B 369-76) 

The first two and last two lines alone can be traced to the GN and then 
in orUy the most general terms {EN 21.2.3-8 and 18.3.6-8). The rest of 
the stanza is derived from Luke 1:68, 71, and 79, the song of Zacharias, 
the liturgical Benedictus. Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, has no 
role in the GN, and although Simeon appears, he has a different 
speech. This stanza shows the eclectic nature of the Devils' Parliament 
and how, as a source, the GN is used in a piecemeal fashion, possibly 
even from memory. But if debts for specific passages are rare, the con- 
ception of the Devils' Parliament owes much to the GN, for the idea of 
casting the Devil in the role of narrator of the life of Christ, and as one 
who is unsure of Christ's identity and who has plotted his death, 
appears in embryo in Satan's speeches to the devils in hell (EN 20.1 

''" The A and B texts are edited in parallel by Marx, The Devils' Parliament, 
11-114; a transcription of B appears in Frederick J. Fumivall, ed.. Hymns to the 
Virgin and Christ, "The Parliament of Devils" and Other Religious Poems . . . , EETS 
OS, vol. 24 (London: K. Paul, Trench, Triibner, 1867), 41-57. On the problems of 
localizing Addit. 37492, see Marx, The Devils' Parliament, 13-14; on Lambeth 853, 
see lALME 1:118; no linguistic profile is given. My own analysis of Lambeth 853 
suggests that north Buckinghamshire can be added to the probable area of origin 
of the manuscript. 

Old English and Middle English 247 

and 20.2.13-19). In this respect the Devils' Parliament is similar to the 
prologue of Demon in "Passion Play 1" of N-Town. At the same time, 
the Devils' Parliament has at its center a debate between Christ and 
Lucifer on the issue of the Redemption (A 277-320 / B 269-352). This 
has no precedent in the GN but is a reflection of the change in theolog- 
ical ideas which resulted from the twelfth-century controversy over the 
issue of the Devil's rights. The Middle English Harrowing of Hell, the 
York and Towneley play of the Harrowing, Piers Plowman B 18 / C 20, 
and the Devils' Parliament are essentially reinterpretations of the Har- 
rowing of Hell. They reflect a new reading of the GN and a new re- 
sponse to the issues raised by the text in the light of theological and 
didactic concems.^^ 

Middle English prose translations from Latin 

While the Gospel of Nicodemus makes its first appearance in English in 
OE prose, there are no examples of it complete in ME prose until the 
late fourteenth century. John Trevisa (b. ca. 1342, d. ca. 1402), vicar of 
Berkeley and chaplain to Thomas IV lord of Berkeley in Gloucester- 
shire, produced what is probably the earliest known ME prose transla- 
tion of the Gospel}*^ There are two contexts for this work that need 
to be taken into account, the production of the trai\slation, and the 
three manuscripts in which it survives: London, BL MS. Addit. 16165, 
fols. 94v-114v (A); SaUsbury Cathedral MS. 39, fols. 129v-47r (S); 
Winchester College MS. 33, fols. 74r-93v (W); all are of the fifteenth 
century.^'^ A is a Shirley manuscript, and recent research has dated 
the part which includes the GN to aroimd 1425.^"** The attribution of 

"^ On this issue, see Marx, "The Problem of the Doctrine of Redemption"; 
idem, "An Edition and Study of the Conflictus"; idem. The Devil's Rights. 

'*^ Edited by H. C. Kim, "The Gospel of Nicodemus Translated by John 
Trevisa" (Ph.D. diss.. University of Washington, 1%3). See also David C. Fowler, 
"New Ught on John Trevisa," Traditio 18 (1962): 289-317, and Aaron J. Perry, ed., 
Dialogus inter Militem et Clericum, Richard FitzRalph's Sermon: 'Defensio Curatorum' 
and Methodius: 'pe Bygynnyng ofpe World and pe Ende of Worldes,' translated by John 
Trevisa, EETS OS, vol. 167 (London: Oxford University Press, 1925), xci-xdv. 

"^ They are described in British Museum, London, Catalogue of Additions to 
the Manuscripts in the British Museum in the Years 1846-1857 (London: Printed by 
Order of the Trustees, 1864), 155-56; Salisbury Cathedral, A Catalogue of the Library 
of the Cathedral Church of Salisbury (London: Spottiswoode, 1880), 9-10; Norman 
Davis, ed., Non-Cycle Plays and the Winchester Dialogues: Facsimilies of Plays and 
Fragments in Various Manuscripts and the Dialogues in Winchester College MS. 33, 
Leeds Texts and Monographs, Medieval Drama Facsimiles, vol. 5 (Leeds: Univer- 
sity of Leeds, School of English, 1979), 135-39. 

'** R. J. Lyall, "Materials: the Paper Revolution," in Book Production and Pub- 

248 C. W. MARX 

the translation to Trevisa which has not so far been questioned rests on 
two types of evidence. In the versified table of contents in A, Shirley 
identifies Trevisa as the translator/^^ eind in the top margin of A fols. 
94v-95r is written, "J^e passyoun of oure lord ihesu translated by 
mayster lohan Trevysa."^^ This attribution comes at most twenty 
years after Trevisa's death. The translation also contains interpolations 
which are glosses on "Olympias" (EN Prol.lO) and "Amen" and "All- 
eluia" (EN 24.2.11). The first finds a parallel in Trevisa's translation of 
the Polychronicon, but only in A is it identified specifically with him, 
£ind this may be the work of Shirley; but the second interpolation is 
associated with him in A and S.^^^ 

The translation is based on EN A}^^ Apart from the interpola- 
tioi\s already mentioned, Trevisa's chapter 2 has a variation and an 
addition of roughly fifty words which serve to create two episodes 
from one: in Trevisa's text the miracle of the standards (chap. 1) is an 
episode separate from the main tiial before Pilate.^^ There is no 
known precedent for this in the Latin manuscripts, but at least two 
vernacular texts show a similar treatment of the miracle of the stan- 
dards, the ME prose sequence of the Passion and GN found in Egerton 
2658 etc., which we discussed earlier, and the OF translation and adap- 
tation of the Meditationes vitae Christi made for Jean de Berry.^^ It is 
possible that Trevisa was aware of a tradition of treating the episode 
of the miracle of the standards in this way and adapted his text accord- 

We should see the production of this text of the GN in the context 
of the other translations produced by Trevisa and his colleague John 
Walton for the Berkeley family; as R. F. Green remarks, "a list of their 

lishing in Britain, 1375-1475, ed. Jeremy Griffiths and Derek Pearsall (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1989), 16-19. 

"' At fol. 2v; the verse preface is printed in Eleanor Prescott Hammond, ed., 
"John Shirley: Two Versified Tables of Contents," in English Verse between Chaucer 
and Surrey, ed. Eleanor Prescott Hammond (Ehirham, N.C.: Duke University 
Press, 1927), 194-96. 

'*' The attribution also appears in the explicit of the Boethius; see A, fol. 94r. 

^^^ A, fols. 94v and 112r; S, fols. 129v and 144v; W, fols. 74r and 90v; see also 
the beginning of book 4 of Trevisa's trtinslation of Ralph Higden's, Ranulphi 
Higden monachi Cestrensis Polychronicon . . . , vol. 4, ed. Joseph Rawson Lumby, 
Rer. Brit. M. A. Script., vol. 41 (London: Longman, Triibner, 1872), 253. 

^^^ Kim, "The Gospel of Nicodemus Translated by John Trevisa," xxi-xxx. 

^^ Ibid., 8-9. 

^^ Millard Meiss and Elizabeth H. Beatson, eds.. La Vie de Nostre Benoit 
Sauveur Ihesuscrist & La Saincte Vie de Nostre Dame (New York: New York Univer- 
sity Press, 1977), 61-63. 

^^ Kim, "The Gospel of Nicodemus Translated by John Trevisa," xxiii-xxvii, 
considers it to be the result of an error. 

Old English and Middle English 249 

translations reads almost like a prospectus of works essential for the 
formation of a basic aristocratic library."^^ The Polychronicon, one of 
Trevisa's major translation projects, is full of biblical and early Chris- 
tian history but lacks a sustained account of the trial. Crucifixion, and 
Resurrection of Christ. The translation of the GN may have been meant 
to fill this deficiency. What is significant about Trevisa is that he takes 
over the Gospel as a whole; he does not follow the contemporary 
fashion of the literature of affective piety to displace its trial and Cruci- 
fixion episodes and retain orUy the account of Joseph of Arimathea and 
the Harrowing of Hell. Trevisa's translation points to a view of the 
Gospel as an authority for sacred history. This is reflected in a remark 
by John Wyclif in De veritate Sacrae Scripturae: 

Item multi preter quatuor ewangelistas scripsenmt ewangeUa, 
ut patet de Nichodemo, cuius autoritas videtur racionabiliter 
debere capi, et quia fuit fidelis et sanctus et quia interfuit.^^ 

(Indeed, apart from the four evangelists, many wrote gospels, 
as is obvious in the case of Nicodemus, whose authority it 
seems ought reasonably to be accepted, because he was faith- 
ful and holy and because he was present [at the time when 
- Christ lived].) 

The GN is not questioned as a record of events. 

The three surviving manuscripts suggest a variety of uses for 
Trevisa's translation. In A the Gospel is described in the top margins 
and in the explicit as a Passion text, "the Passion as translated by 
Trevisa" and "the Passion of Christ by Nicodemus." In the light of the 
contemporary literature of affective piety, anything less like a Peission 
narrative would be hard to find. This label, which appears on other 
versions of the Gospel as well, was probably used for want of some- 
thing better. The GN is the second item in A; it is preceded by Chau- 
cer's translation of Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy (fols. 4r-94r) and 
followed by The Mayster of the Game (fols. 115r-90r) by Edward, duke 
of York, who died in 1415, and a variety of other texts, many of which 
are by Lydgate. It is difficult to agree with R. F. Green that the manu- 
script reflects a kind of antiquarian project;^^ whether or not it was 
produced for commercial reasons, it has the air of a generally up-to- 
date collection enhanced by the work of known personalities.^^ It 

'* Richard Firth Green, Poets and Princepleasers: Literature and the English Court 
in the Late Middle Ages (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), 154. 

'^ John Wyclif, De veritate Sacrae Scripturae, ed. Rudolf Buddensieg, Wyclif 
Society, 3 vols. (London: Triibner, 1905-7), 1:237. 

'* Green, Poets and Princepleasers, 132. 

'*' Green, Poets and Princepleasers, 132, is questioned in A. S. G. Edwards, 

250 C. W. MARX 

should be remembered that Trevisa's translation of the GN was an 
innovation; the text was well known as an authority, but his was prob- 
ably the first complete English prose translahon since the eleventh cen- 
tury. Here it has a prominent place in a compilation of contemporary 
or near contemporary literature. 

No such importance attaches to the Gospel in S, where it is the last 
and only vernacular item in a manuscript which is a collection mainly 
of Latin meditative and didactic texts; its English language has been 
located to Wiltshire.^^" It was owned by Thomas Cyrcetur (b. ca. 
1376, d. 1453), whose donation appears at the end (fol. 147r), following 
the Gospel. He was a canon of Salisbury Cathedral and is associated 
with an anti-Wycliffite tradition; he emerges as one who was essential- 
ly conservative in theology and ministry .^^^ The list of his bequests 
reads like a standard collection of medieval popular theology and 
learning, and includes Chaucer's translation of the Consolation of 
Philosophy, the Legenda aurea, the Historia scholastica of Peter Comestor, 
and the Veritas theologiae}^^ It is instructive to see the GN in the con- 
text of the collection as a whole; it appears among standard late 
medieval learned texts. W is made up of six sections. Only the first 
four (fols. 1-109), the main part of the manuscript of the mid- to late 
fifteenth century, need concern us; fols. 110-15 and fols. 116-19 are 
later additions of the sixteenth century. The first four sections make up 
a series of booklets, and the Gospel occupies the third, which is com- 
posed of a gathering of 8 and a gathering of 12 (fols. 74r-93v).^^^ The 

"Lydgate Manuscripts: Some Directions for Future Research," in Manuscripts and 
Readers in Fifteenth-Century England, ed. Derek Pearsall (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 
1983), 20-21. On A and Shirley generally, see Lyall, "Materials," 16-19; Julia Bof- 
fey and John J. Thompson, "Antihologies and Miscellanies: Production and Choice 
of Texts," in Book Production and Publishing in Britain, 1375-1475, 284-88; and Julia 
Boffey, Manuscripts of English Courtly Love Lyrics in the Later Middle Ages (Wood- 
bridge, Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 1985), 15-17. 

'^ Three hands are detectable, and the manuscript may be composite. There 
are only four items: the first (fols. Ir-lOv) is a series of short Latin texts; that on 
fol. 4v has a marginal note meditationes beati Bernardi; item two (fols. llr-19r) is 
identified as the Latin text of the Speculum sacerdotum; item three (fols. 19v-129v) 
is John de Waldeby's treatise in Latin on the Lord's Prayer, Ave Maria and 
Apostles' Creed; the fourth item is the GN (fols. 129v^7r). Kim, "The Gospel of 
Nicodemus Translated by John Trevisa," used S as the basis for his edition. 
LALME 1:161, identifies "three hands in a similar language" in fols. 129v-47r (see 
also 3:546, linguistic profile 5371). 

'^' R. M. Ball, "Thomas Cyrcetur, a Fifteenth-Century Theologian and 
Preacher," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 2>7 (1986): 205-39; Anne Hudson, The Pre- 
mature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History (Cbcford: Clarendon Press, 
1988), 423, 453. 

^" See Salisbury Cathedral MSS. 13, 36, 39, 40, 55, 81, 84, 113, 126, 167, 170, 174. 

'^ See Davis, Non-Cycle Plays. This text, unknown to Kim, was first noticed 

Old English and Middle English 251 

first two booklets contain extracts from the South English Legendary and 
the Winchester dialogues Lucidus and Dubius and Occupation and Idle- 
ness, and the fourth contains the Abbey of the Holy Ghost (ids. 94r- 
108v). The same hand appears in the four booklets, so although they 
were probably not copied in close succession, they form the work of a 
single compiler. Here the prose Gospel is part of a collection of didactic 
literature and might even be considered as part of the legendary; in 
both the incipit and explicit, it is described not simply as an account of 
the Passion but as covering the history of Christ through to the Ascen- 
sion. These three manuscripts of Trevisa's translation show different 
ways in which the text was read and a growing interest in the com- 
plete Gospel in prose in the fifteenth century. 

Worcester Cathedral Library MS. F172, dated to roughly the third 
quarter of the fifteenth century,^^ contains another ME prose GN 
translated from Latin (fols. 4r-12r); like Trevisa's, it is based on EN 
A}^ The manuscript has been damaged, and in its present state the 
Gospel is the first item, beginning imperfectly at EN 9.5.3 ("aduersus 
lesum . . .")• The translation is very literal, more like a gloss on the 
Latin, and would seem to have been made, along with others, for the 
manuscript. One example illustrates some of its features: 

' If he be so myghti in manhod trewly I sey to the he is almygh- 
ti and the power of hym may noman resiste ne withstande 
and if he sey hymsilf to drede deth and wil take the woo 
shalbe to the in euerlastyng worldis in preiudice. (Fol. 8v) 

Si talis potens est in humanitate, uere dico tibi omnipotens est 
in diuinitate, et potentiae eius nemo potest resistere. Et si dicit 
se mortem timere, capere te uult et ue tibi erit in sempitema 
secula. {EN 20.2.7-10) 

The translator misses the accusative and infinitive construction, trans- 
lates "resistere" using a doublet, and fails to appreciate the sense of 

by Kathleen H. Power, "A Newly Identified Prose Version of the Trevisa Version 
of the Gospel of Nicodemus," Notes and Queries 223 (1978): 5-7. The special fea- 
tures of the text have been discussed in David C. Fowler, "The Middle English 
Gospel of Nicodemus in Winchester MS 33," Leeds Studies in English, n.s., 19 
(1988): 67-83. 

'" John Kestell Floyer, Catalogue of Manuscripts Preserved in the Chapter Library 
of Worcester Cathedral, ed. Sidney Graves Hamilton (Oxford: J. Parker, 1906), 96-98. 

^^ The manuscript has been discussed in a number of places, but see Doyle, 
"An Unrecognized Piece of Piers the Ploughman's Creed and Other Works by Its 
Scribe," Speculum 34 (1959): 430-32, and C. Paul Christianson, "Evidence for the 
Study of London's Late Medieval Manuscript-Book Trade," in Book Production and 
Publishing in Britain, 1375-1475, 101 and n. 43. 

252 C. W. MARX 

"capere" in this context, "to deceive." The Gospel finishes on fol. 12r, 
where it corresponds to the end of Kim's text (EN 28.36). Following 
this, after a mid-line paragraph mark and ruiming to fol. 12v, is a sum- 
mary of the history of Joseph of Arimathea and the destruction of 
Jerusalem, the interrogation and execution of Pilate, and the events fol- 
lowing his death. There are fifteen blank lines on fol. 12v; then, on fols. 
13r-16r is the ME prose translation from Latin of the Legend of the Cross 
before Christ}^ At the end of this text is written "Explicit Passio 
Nichodemi" (fol. 16r). This explicit more strictly should appear on fol. 
12r, but its presence here reflects the way in which certain texts be- 
came associated with the GN, almost as if it were the center of a 
network of legends. This legend of the cross in its Latin form appears 
with the EN in a number of manuscripts, and it is likely that the ME 
sequence is drawn from such a source. F172 as a whole is an important 
collection of practical instruction and contemplative works, such as 
Hilton's Scale of Perfection (book 1) and Rolle's Mending ofLife}^^ The 
use of the vernacular for many of the texts and the way in which they 
are translated are the most striking features of the manuscript; they 
probably functioned as reference works, or as Ian Doyle characterizes 
them, "as cribs for consultation."^^ This context reinforces the im- 
pression of the importance attached in the fifteenth century to the 
complete Gospel in ME prose. 

Middle English prose translations from French 

In addition to Latin, French versions of the Gospel ofNicodemus provid- 
ed a source for ME prose translations. One example is found in Library 
of Congress MS. Faye-Bond 4 (formerly, pre-Ac 4), fols. 37v-63v. The 
language and hands of the two scribes of fols. lr-63v have been local- 
ized to West Essex and dated between 1395 and 1415, so the text is 
roughly contemporary with Trevisa's. This part of the manuscript was 
probably produced at the Benedictine Priory at Hatfield Broad Oak 
(Hatfield Regis) and intended for the nunnery of Castle Hedingham in 
north-eastern Essex, even if it did not remain at — or possibly even 
reach — its destination.^^^ The text generally follows Ford's "Tradition 

^" Edited by Betty Hill, "The Fifteenth-century Prose Legend of the Cross 
before Christ," Medium JEmim 34 (1965): 203-22. 

^*^ No adequate description of F172 has been published; for texts printed 
from it, see IPMEP 36, 61, 119, 255, 379, 397, 411, 528, 540, 651. 

*** Doyle, "An Unrecognized Piece," 431. 

'** This version of the GN has been edited by Betty Hill, "The Middle English 
Prose Version of the Gospel of Nicodemus from Washington, Library of Congress 

Old English and Mid dle English 253 

A," which concludes with only a reference to Pilate's letter to Claudius 
(fol. 56r-v); then follows a narrative which includes the healing of 
Tiberius, the condemnation of Pilate, the Veronica legend, and the 
story of Simon Magus during the reign of Nero (fols. 56v-63v).^''° 
What follows the Gospel here also appears in an AN manuscript of the 
second half of the thirteenth century, Egerton 2710 (fols. 132rl>- 
34rb).^^ The ME material beginning with the Gospel can be regarded 
as a translation of the kind of AN sequence found in this manuscript; 
and Library of Congress MS. Faye-Bond 4, fols. 37v-63v, probably 
reflects an older French compilation in which the Gospel formed part of 
a legendary of early Christian history. The other contemporary con- 
tents are a ME translation from French of the Rule of Saint Benedict 
adapted for the use of nuns (fols. lr-36r) and an "Injunction for Nuns" 
(fols. 36v-37v). The compilation is a product of the changing linguistic 
climate of the fourteenth century and the needs of a female religious 

Another translation of the GN from French appears in London, BL 
MS. Harley 149.^^ The manuscript is dominated by Dives and Pauper 
(fols. 7r-182v), the extended commentary on the Ten Commandments. 
This is written by three hands, but the rest of the manuscript (except 
for the last folio, fol. 281) is in one hand (the fourth) throughout. The 
GN appears after (1) "an English version of Jacques Legrand's Lime de 
Bonnes moeurs" (fols. 183r-252r)^''* and (2) an account of the Last 
Supper (fols. 252r-54v). Apart from the last folio (fol. 281), the rest of 
the manuscript is taken up with the GN and related material (fols. 

pre-Ac 4," Notes and Queries 232 (1987): 156-75; the manuscript is described in 
Seymour De Ricci and W. J. Wilson, Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts 
in the United States and Canada, vol. 1 (1935; repr.. New York: Kraus Reprint Corp., 
1%1), 180-81. Evidence that the text is translated from French is given by Hill, 
"The Middle English Prose Version," 158. See also Jeanne Krochalis, "The 
Benedictine Rule for Nuns: Library of Congress MS 4*," Manuscripta 30 (1986): 21- 
34; Betty Hill, "Some Problems in Washington, Library of Congress MS Faye- 
Bond 4," in In Other Words: Transcultural Studies . . . Presented to H. H. Meier, ed. 
J. L. MacKenzie and R. Todd (Dordrecht: Foris, 1989), 35-44; LALME 1:165, 3:122, 
linguistic profile 6210 [hand B], and 123, linguistic profile 6230 [hand A]. 

™ Hill, "The Middle English Prose Version," 171-75. 

'^ See above, n. 53. I am grateful to my colleague Dr. Nicole Crossley-Hol- 
land for examining Egerton 2710; she confirms that the ME legendary material is 
a dose and accurate trcmslation of the text as it is foimd in the French manuscript. 

'^ A fourtii item on the creed (fols. 64r-78r) is in a later hand. 

'^ Edited in Lindstrom, A Late Middle English Version; for the manuscript, see 
British Museum, London, A Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts, 1:44. Evidence 
that this is a translation from Frendh is given by Lindstrom, A Late Middle English 
Version, 11-14. 

'^* Lindstrom, A Late Middle English Version, 33. 

254 C. W. MARX 

254v-80v). The text of the Gospel is a holograph and is dated to the 
fourth quarter of the fifteenth century, although it may be later. The 
translator conflated two recensions of Ford's "Tradition A," one 
related to Egerton 2710 and the other to BN MS. f. fr. 1850;^^^ the 
latter manuscript is of the same recension as the one we discussed in 
connection with the source for the ME Stanzaic Gospel of Nicodemus. 
There are some additions not found in the French, such as references 
to Judas Iscariot and the dream of Pilate's wife as the work of the 
Devil.^''^ Further, the making of the creed (fol. 267r-v) is introduced 
in the midst of the account of Joseph of Arimathea returning to Jerusa- 
lem (cf. EN 15.4). Lindstrom does not print this addition, but even if it 
appears to be "extra-contextual," it was clearly intended as part of this 
version of the GN. 

The compiler's conception of the Gospel is indicated by the divi- 
sions he imposes on it and the links he makes with other texts. An 
incipit appears on fol. 254v which describes it as a "story of pe pas- 
syoun," and at the top of fol. 263r is the explicit, "here endyth the pas- 
syoun of Ihesu Cryst and folowyth serteyn storyes of thynges done 
aftyr hys passyoun." This introduces the episode of the Centurion 
reporting the miracles at the death of Christ (EN 11.2). Unlike those 
who refer to the whole Gospel as an account of the Passion, this compil- 
er has here recognized some of the problems of this label. What fol- 
lows from here to fol. 280v is the Resurrection and post-Resurrection 
narrative. The equivalent of the end of the Gospel comes on fol. 276r 
with "Et sic est finis deo gratias, here aftyr foloweth a story of pe 
veronycle." The rest of the text is based on the same source as the 
account in Library of Congress MS. Faye-Bond 4, fols. 56v-63v,^'^ 
without the letter of Pilate. It is an independent translation and differ- 
ences of substance may be the result of changes in the French tradition 
as well as conflation of two or more texts by the translator. Neverthe- 
less, the continuation is derived from a manuscript related to Egerton 
2710. Sections of the narrative are further signalled with headings, 
which reflect practices elsewhere in the sequence. The translator heis 
presented this latter part as a legendary, and what we think of as the 
GN has been used in this larger compilation. 

'^ Ibid., 11-15. 
'^^ Ibid., 16-19. 


HiU, "The Middle English Version," 172-75. 

Old English and Middle English 255 

Early printed texts 

A striking indication of the continued popularity of the Gospel ofNico- 
demus in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries is its appear- 
ance, in whole or in part, in printed form. The first instance of the 
printing of material from the Gospel in English is in Caxton's text of the 
Legenda aurea, the extracts from GN 18-27 in the chapter on the Resur- 
rection. The earliest edition dates from 1483, and there were subse- 
quent ones in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.^^^ The English GN 
appeared as an independent text first in 1507 and was printed eight 
times by three publishers down to 1537.^^^ The efficiency and closely- 
knit nature of the printing trade meant that one version became the 
standard text and all others were ignored, at least in this medium. This 
independent status makes it more difficult to find clues as to how the 
Gospel might have been read; nevertheless, the form gives it authority 
as a record of sacred history. Aime Hudson has found that at least one 
of these early printed texts was in the possession of an individual asso- 
ciated with Lollardy, but she detects nothing to link it with the move- 
ment itself.^*" 

The earliest printing is by Julian Notary (1507)^*^ and consists of 
22 leaves without pagination. WyrJcyn de Worde's edition of 1509^*^ 
has 26 leaves without pagination; it is a reprint but not a line-for-line 
reprint of Notary's text. Wynkyn de Worde did not take over the text 
in a wholly uncritical way. There is evidence of modernization and 
correction of faulty or awkward readings in Julian Notary's edi- 
tion.^*^ With this Wynkyn de Worde established the format for all 
subsequent printings down to 1537, including those by John Scot. The 
text is a translation from French of the recension of Ford's "Tradition 

'^ A. W. PoUard and G. R. Redgrave, A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed 
in England, Scotland, and Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad 1475-1640, 2d 
ed., revised and enlarged by W. A. Jackson, F. S. Ferguson and K. F. Pantzer, 3 
vols. (London: The Bibliographical Society, 1976-91), 24873-80 (cited as STC). The 
extracts from GN 18-27 appear in the first Caxton printing, STC, 24873, on fols. 

'^ STC 18565 Qulian Notary, 1507); STC 18566-68 and 18570 (Wynkyn de 
Worde, 1509, 1511, 1512, 1518, 1532); and STC 18569 and 18570a Q. Skot, 1529, 
1537?). A hiller account of the early printings appears in C. W. Marx, "Julian 
Notary, Wynkyn de Worde, and the Earliest Printed Texts of the Middle English 
Gospel of Nicodemus," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 96 (1995) 389-98. 

'*■ Hudson, The Premature Reformation, 483-84 and n. 222. 

^»' STC 18565. 

^^ STC 18566. 

'*^ This accords with what we know of Wynkyn de Worde's practices else- 
where; see Carol M. Meale, "Wynkyn de Worde's Setting-Copy for Ipomydon," 
Studies in Bibliography 35 (1982): 156-71. 

256 C. W. MARX 

A" represented by Paris, BN MS. f. fr. 1850, and Oxford, Queen's 
College MS. 305, the version which, as we pointed out eariier, is 
related to what Izydorczyk has identified as EN C, and which is at the 
basis of the ME Stanzaic Gospel ofNicodemus and the text in Harley 149. 
The identification in the prologue (p. 2) of "bysshop Turpyn" as the 
translator, however, has been shown to be the result of a palaeograph- 
ical error.^*^ It is generally thought that Julian Notary was French, 
and he probably acted as both translator and publisher; in this respect 
he would have been following the practices of Caxton.^^ Some fea- 
tures of this version do not appear to derive from the French textual 
tradition. These may have been present in a lost manuscript, or the 
translator may have used two sources. Another possibility is that these 
additional features reflect contemporary expectations of texts which 
deal with the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. There is, for example, 
a long interpolation of the legend of Sjmdonia, who wove the cloth 
which Joseph of Arimathea purchased to bury Christ in ([pp. 18-20]). 
The legend is not widespread, but its presence reflects the practice of 
adding materials of this kind to Passion narratives.^*^ The flagellation 
is developed as a separate episode in Julian Notary's text ([p. 15]),^^ 
and it was probably added in response to the long established tradi- 
tion of writing on the Passion of Christ. 

One feature of these editions which offers some suggestion of how 
the text was perceived, or how readers were encouraged to perceive it, 
is the illustrations. All the printings of the Gospel down to 1537 contain 
two types of illustrations: events in the Passion of Christ, and what can 
be called conversational groups made up of conventional figures to 
whom names are assigned with labels. The use of scenes from the Pas- 
sion, particularly on the title-page, aligns the text with devotional 

^®* See Lindstrom, A Late Middle English Version, 14-15; Ford, L'tvangile de 
Nicodhne, 22-23; Hugh Shields, "Bishop Turpin and the Source of Nycodemus 
gospell," English Studies 53 (1972): 497-502. Lindstrom prints the text in BN MS. f. 
fr. 1850 as "text C." Shields gives evidence that the translation is from French. 

^^ E. Gordon EKiff, A Century of the English Book Trade. Short Notices of All 
Printers, Stationars, Bookbinders, and Others Connected with It from the Issue of the 
First Dated Book in 1457 to the Incorporation of the Company of Stationers in 1557 
(London: The Bibliographical Society, 1948), 112-14; James Moran, Wynkyn de 
Worde: Father of Fleet Street, 2d ed. (London: Wjmkyn de Worde Society, 1976), 35; 
Henry R. Plomer, Wynkyn de Worde and His Contemporaries (London: Grafton, 
1925), 163-76; N. F. Blake, "Wynkyn de Worde: the Later Years," in Gutenberg- 
Jahrbuch (Maiiu:: Verlag der Gutenberg-Gesellschaft, 1972), 129; on Caxton as 
translator, idem, Caxton and His World (London: London House & Maxwell, 1969), 

^^ Lindstrom, A Late Middle English Version, 15; Marx and Drennan, The 
Middle English Prose Complaint, 65. 

'^ Marx, "Julian Notary," 390, gives the text from Julian Notary's printing. 

Old English and Middle English 257 

literature and suggests parallels with what must have been the most 
common symbol of private devotion, the book of hours. The other type 
of illustration reflects what is a more central feature of the GN, namely, 
that it is a text about disputes over the nature and identity of Jesus. 

A Reformation response 

The latest English manuscript text of the Gospel of Nicodemus, one 
which post-dates the printed texts, is of interest mainly for the context 
in which it appears: CUL MS. Mm. 1. 29, of the late sixteenth century 
— after 1564.^^ It is a paper manuscript with modem binding (1972), 
guarding, and repair, and consists of, in order: 1 modem flyleaf; 1 
sixteenth-century flyleaf (160mm x 195mm); 1 modem flyleaf; 59 paper 
folios of different dimensions with modem repairs and foliation; and 
1 modem flyleaf at the end. On the sixteenth-century flyleaf, the anti- 
quarian Humphrey WaiUey identified the manuscript as a notebook of 
"Thomas Earl, minister of S Mildreds Bred street," compiled during 
his incumbency 1564-1600. In addition to ecclesiastical notes, it is also 
a commonplace book with extracts concerning Puritan and Catholic 
issues.^*' TTie Gospel appears on fols. 8r-16v and is based on the Lat- 
in EN \\ 33-27.12, that is, from Joseph asking Pilate for the body of 
Christ to a brief mention of Karinus and Leutius at the end of the 
narrative. The text is prefaced by comments in at least three hands; 
Hulme gives most of them in his description,^'" but there are some 
errors in his transcription of the following, which is written in the 
hand of the main text 

Because thee fable of that Romain papall sinagogue ys not 
now exstaunt thowght somtym impryntid in the Inglishe 
tounge under the tytle of Nychodemus Ghospell I have agayn 
written thee same ovt of their oude postills as lohn Herolt ser- 
mones discipulij sermo 146 /I/, sermones dormi secure sermo 
30, lacobus de Voragine De Resurrectione domini, whose 
wordes follow thus. (Fol. 8r)^'^ 

'** University library, Cainbridge, A Catalogue of the Manuscripts Preserved in 
the Library of the University of Cambridge, 6 vok. (Cambridge: University Press, 
1856-67), 4:122; Hulme, The Middle English Harrowing of Hell, Iv-lvii. 

'" For contents, see Hulme, The Middle English Harrowing of Hell, Iv. 

"° Ibid., Ivi. 

^^ Hulme's reading "146, 1 F" is an error; "/I/" is probably an index mark 
in a volume without pagination. What Hulme gives as superscript "iii" is a caret 
mark indicating where "lacobus de Voragine" should appear. 

258 C. W. MARX 

The reference to the printing of the Gospel is probably to one of the 
sixteenth-century editions. Three authorities are cited here. The third 
is the chapter on the Resurrection in the Legenda aurea, which contains 
extracts from EN 18-27, but this is not the source for the version in this 
manuscript. The reference to }ohn Herolt is to Johannes Herolt, a Do- 
minican friar active at Basel during the first half of the fifteenth centu- 
ry; his Sermones Discipuli de tempore et de Sanctis was widely circulated, 
and a large number of printings survive from the fifteenth and six- 
teenth centuries, including one by Julian Notary (1510).^'^ His "ser- 
mon 146," entitled "De articulis fidei," under the fifth article "descen- 
dit ad inferna," deals with issues surrounding Christ's Descent into 
Hell, the liberation of the saints, and the parts of hell.^'^ The sermon 
contains, however, no extracts from the Gospel. The "sermones dormi 
secure" are the Sermones dominicales of Joannes de Verdena, which 
were frequently printed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, occa- 
sionally along with the sermons of Johannes Herolt.^^^ "Sermon 30" 
is for "dominica prima post octauas pasche" and is based on the text 
"Ego sum pastor bonus et cognosco oues meas" (Jn. 10:14), but there 
is nothing to suggest a link with the GN. "Sermon 35" on the Ascen- 
sion contains references to Christ rescuing the souls from hell and uses 
Psalm 23:7 and 9 (Vulgate), which also appear in GN 21. This sermon 
is closest thematically to the Gospel and may be the intended refer- 
ence.^^^ Since the manuscript text is based on the Gospel and not one 
of these authorities, the compiler may have cited them not as sources 
but as precedents. So, in the clause "I have agayn written thee same 
ovt of their oude postills as lohn Herolt . . . ," "as" may have the sense 
"in the manner of." Whatever his purpose, he locates the Gospel in a 
popular Latin and Catholic tradition. 

What follows the GN is more revealing of the compiler's views; 
fols. 16v-19r contain a series of attacks on the text as "popishe." He 
questions Christ's personal Harrowing of Hell and argues for purity of 

^^ STC 13226; Joannes Herolt, Miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, trans. C. C. 
Swinton Bland, intro. Eileen Power, Broadway Medieval Library (London: 
G. Routledge & Sons, 1928), 2-3. Ten editions of works by Herolt appear in 
Bodleian Library, Oxford, Bodleian Library Pre-1920 Catalogue: Incunabula (Oxford: 
Bodleian Library, 1988), 262-63. 

^^ I have used the text of this semnon in a 1511 edition of Joannes Herolt's 
Sermones Discipuli de tempore et de Sanctis: et Quadragesimale eiusdem: cum diuersis 
tabulis [quam] necessariis (Rouen: Petrus Oliuerius, 1511); the volume is without 

^^ Ten editions of works by Joannes de Verdena appear in Bodleian Library 
Pre-1920 Catalogue, 303. 

''^ I have consulted Joannes de Verdena, Sermones dominicales (Cologne: 
C. Winters, 1477); this volume is without pagination. 

Old English and Middle English 259 

doctrine and belief.^'^ This response to the GN is perhaps not untypi- 
cal of Protestant attitudes. But it is paradoxical that such a hostile 
compiler should bother to copy out the text. The GN perhaps retained 
a deep-rooted fascination which even the Reformation could not 

^* Hulme, The Middle English Harrowing of Hell, Ivii, transcribes a small 
portion of this commentary. 

^"^ Although it is beyond the scope of this essay, it is interesting to note that 
there has recently come to light a mcmuscript dating from ciround 1660 of cm 
English translation of the GN which may be the work of a recusant; see Irma 
Taavitsainen and C. W. Marx, "A Seventeenth-Century English Manuscript of The 
Gospel of Nicodemus in Royal Library of Stockholm, MS Huseby 71," Notes and 
Queries 239 (1994): 150-55. 

The Influence of the 

Evangelium Nicodemi on 

Norse Literature: A Survey^ 


3ntercourse between the centers of learning on the continent and in 
Britain and the monasteries and cathedrals of medieval Scandina- 
via led to the translation of an astonishing number of devotional 
and doctrinal books. That these books gained immense popularity is 
shown by their many manuscripts, as well as by the entries in the cata- 
logues of libraries of monasteries and bishoprics in Scandinavia. Much 
of this ecclesiastical literature has undoubtedly been lost, especially the 
older manuscripts written presumably on vellum, a fact which made 
them particularly useful for purposes that eventually led to their 
destruction. Law codices, leech-books, and the like were preserved 
because of their continued usefulness, but the religious literature had 
less of a chance of survival. 

The Evangelium Nicodemi (EN) comprises two origii\ally independent 
Greek works, in Latin named Gesta (or Acta) Pilati and Descensus Christi 
ad inferos (Di), which were joined in an apocryphal gospel probably in 
the fifth century under the title Passio Domini or Gesta Salvatoris and later 
renamed Evangelium Nicodemi (a title popularized by Vincent of Beau- 
vais's Speculum historiale and Jacobus a Voragine's Legenda aurea) after its 
alleged author Nicodemus, who assisted Joseph of Arimathea in prepar- 
ing Christ's body for burial (Jn. 19:39-40). The work evidently enjoyed 
great popularity in Scandinavia, just as it did elsewhere in pre-Reforma- 
tion Europe. We still possess the gospel in several manuscripts, despite 
the attempts of the reformers to exclude such hagiographic literature 
from their own developing corpus of doctrines and texts. 

* Reprinted from Mediaeval Studies 55 (1993): 219-42, by permission of tiie 
publisher. Copyright 1993 by the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 


The present survey of the Norse trarislatioris, adaptations, and 
paraphrases of the EN falls naturally into two main parts: West eind 
East Norse, representing a geographical and linguistic distinction 
between Norway and Iceland, on the one hand, and Denmark and 
Sweden, on the other. 

1. West Norse 

The oldest rendering of the Evangelium Nicodemi into a Norse language 
is the Old Norse-Icelandic Nidrstigningarsaga, a translation of the 
Descensus Christi ad inferos. The translation, which is commonly dated 
to the twelfth century, survives in four medieval Icelandic manu- 
scripts.^ The oldest of these manuscripts is Copenhagen, Amamag- 
naean Institute (AM) 645 4°, which contains the complete text. It is a 
collective volume of Latin ecclesiastical literature translated into Ice- 
landic, and Nidrstigningarsaga belongs to the so-called younger part 
written in all probability in the beginning of the thirteenth century.^ 
The other three manuscripts are defective. AM 623 4°, which has been 
dated to about 1325, lacks the beginning.'' AM 233a fol., from 1350- 
1360, consists of the inner column of a leaf in a collective volume. AM 
238 fol. V, dated to the fifteenth century, is a single leaf most probably 
also from a collective volume. As Magnus Mar Ldrusson has shown, an 
additional source text, Reykjavik, Jon Sigur6sson Collection (JS) 405 8°, 
is a copy of a medieval manuscript, made by the farmer Olafur J6nsson 
i Amey (ca. 1722-1800) in 1780, which contains the complete text of 
Nidrstigningarsaga; in addition, it includes a long chapter cormecting 
Nidrstigningarsaga with the story of the Passion, which, as Magnus Mdr 
Larusson demonstrates, cannot have been composed before 1540, the 
year in which Oddur Gottskalksson's Icelandic translation of the New 
Testament was published.^ The four medieval manuscripts have been 

^ Magnus Mir Ldrusson ("Urn NiQurstigningarsogu," SIdmir 129 [1955]: 15^ 
68) dates it to the time of the first bishop of H61ar, J6n Qgmvindarson (d. 1121). 
He does not present any argumentation for his hypothesis, but his view is shared 
by Ian J. Kirby {Bible Translation in Old Norse, University de Lausanne, Publica- 
tions de la Faculty des lettres, vol. 27 [Geneva: Droz, 1986], 35). See also Otto 
Gschwantler, "Christus, Thor und die Midgardschlange," in Festschrift fUr Otto 
Hofler zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Helmut Birkhan and Otto Gschwantler (Vienna: 
Notring, 1968), 145-68. 

^ See Ludvig Larsson, ed., Islandska handskriften No 645 4° i den Amamagnzan- 
ske Samlingen p& Universitetsbiblioteket i Kebenhavn i diplomatarisk aftnfck utgifoen: I. 
Handskriftens aldre del (Lund: Malmstom, 1885), ii-iii. 

* See Den Amamagnaeanske Kommission, Ordbog over det norrene prosasprog: 
Registre (Copenhagen: Den Kommission, 1989), 339. 

^ Magnus MAt Ldrusson, "Um NiSurstigningarsogu," 167, bases his condu- 

Norse Literature 263 

edited separately by C. R. linger;^ AM 623 4° has also been edited by 
Finnur Jonsson/ and AM 645 4° appears in a facsimile edition with an 
introduction by Anne Holtsmark.^ JS 405 8° has not been edited. 

On the basis of a number of Norwegianisms in AM 645 4°, Eugen 
Mogk, Didrik Arup Seip, and Hans Bekker-Nielsen make a claim for a 
Norwegian origin of the translation.^ Magnus Mar Larusson, however, 
considers an Icelandic provenance more likely, and although the ques- 
tion of the translation's national origin may never be answered, it is 
worth noting that the four medieval manuscripts are all Icelandic.^" 

The relationship among the manuscripts has been debated. G. Tur- 
ville-Petre notes that the differences among the four medieval texts of 
the saga are not great and that they are clearly to be traced to the same 
original translation.^^ His view is supported by two interpolations, 
which are found neither in the Latin texts nor in related vernacular 
translations, but which appear in all four manuscripts.^^ Turville- 
Petre also notes that in the translation the original triad of Christ- 
Satan-Inferus is reduced to a dualism between Christ and Satan, while 
Inferus is transposed to a host of devils ("JQtnar," giants; "djpflar," 
devils; "rikistrQll," mighty trolls; "helvitisbuar," irJiabitants of heU; 
"rikisdjpflar," mighty devils; "kappar," champions; "illar vaettir," evil 
beings; "helvitisfolk," hell folk; "hQfuddjpflar," principal devils). Infe- 
rus appears personified only in AM 238 fol. V, the youngest text, 
whicl" leads Turville-Petre to conclude that this is probably due to a 
revifion by a learned scribe. Although it is not explicitly stated, he 

sion on the reading "Eli, Eli lama asapthani," which appears in both texts. JS 405 
8° has not been the subject of a textual, critical discussion. 

* C. R. Unger, ed., Heilagra manna segur: Fortxllinger og legender om hellige 
mxnd og kvinder, 2 vols. (Oslo: Bentzen, 1877), 2:1-20. This edition will be dted by 
page and line number. A new edition is in preparation by Odd Einar Haugen (see 
n. 15 below). 

^ Finnur Jonsson, ed., AM 623, 4°: Helgensagaer, Samfund til udgivelse af gam- 
mel nordisk litteratur, vol. 52 (Copenhagen: Jergensen, 1927), 1-9. 

* Anne Holtsmark, ed., A Book of Miracles: MS No. 645 4to of the Ama-Magnxan 
Collection in the University Library of Copenhagen, Corpus Codicum Islandicorum 
Medii Aevi, vol. 12 (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1938). 

' Eugen Mogk, Geschichte der norwegisch-islandischen Literatur, 2d rev. ed. 
(Strassburg: Trubner, 1904), 890; Didrik Arup Seip, Nye studier i norsk sprdkhistorie 
(Oslo: Asdhehoug, 1954), 84, 135; Hans Bekker-Nielsen, "Nikodemusevangeliet," 
in Kulturhistorisk Leksikonfor nordisk middelalder, vol. 12 (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde 
and Bagger, 1967), cols. 308-9. 

^° Magnus MAr Larusson, "Um Nidurstigningarsogu," 166. 

" G. Turville-Petre, Origins of Icelandic Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 
1953), 127. 

'^ AM 645 4°: pp. 4.18-33, 5.1-12; AM 623 4°: pp. 10.12-25, 10.32-11.2; AM 
233a fol.: pp. 14.27-15.8; AM 238 fol. V: pp. 19.33-20.8, 20.17-24. 


appears to suggest that AM 238 fol. V is furthest removed from the 
original, that it has two or more sources, ai\d that, therefore, the stemma 
is contamii\ated. Magnus Mar Larusson considers AM 623 4° closest to 
the original text, although it is a poor copy of only a section of the 
text.^^ Gary L. Aho agrees with Turville-Petre that all four manu- 
scripts go back to a common original (*X).^* AM 238 fol. V he sees as 
the most faithful witness to *X, whereas AM 645 4°, AM 623 4°, and 
AM 233a fol. are in his view sister-copies presenting a separate recen- 
sion derived from a nonextant first redaction of *X (*X1). The most 
exhaustive analysis of the filiation of the manuscripts was undertaken 
by Odd Einar Haugen.^^ Haugen agrees with Turville-Petre and Aho 
that AM 238 fol. V represents a separate recension as opposed to AM 
645 4°, AM 623 4", and AM 233a fol., and that these three manuscripts 
derive from a common source (*X). Contrary to Magnus M^r Larus- 
son's theory, he claims that there is no evidence for any hierarchy 
among the three manuscripts and points out that in most cases AM 238 
fol. V renders the Latin more accurately than the other three manu- 
scripts. Haugen demonstrates that cor\sistent argumentation can be 
given in favor of both Turville-Petre's stemma, i.e., that the recension 
represented by AM 238 fol. V is contaminated, and Aho's stemma, i.e., 
that the recension is not contaminated, and argues that other criteria, 
such as extratextual ones, must be utilized in order to make a qualified 
choice. He refers to Turville-Petre's observation that AM 238 fol. V fol- 
lows the Latin in translating the personified Inferus with the neuter 
form "helviti" ("hell") and argues that it is more probable that a 
revision would attempt to correct the text as in AM 238 fol. V rather 
than vice versa as in AM 645 4°, AM 623 4°, and AM 233a fol. He sup- 
ports his hj^othesis by pointing out that the archaic language of AM 
645 4° and AM 623 4° suggests that their common source, *X, belongs 
to the twelfth century, and that this leaves little margin for a supposed 
redacti(5h between AM 645 4°, AM 623 4°, AM 233a fol., and the first 
translation (as argued by Aho). He also draws attention to the dates of 
the four manuscripts and notes that it would seem peculiar that the 
fifteenth-century AM 238 fol. V was the oldest textual witness to the 

" Magnus Mdr Ldrusson, "Um Ni3urstigningars6gu," 159. 

" Gary L. Aho, "A Comparison of Old English and Old Norse Treatments of 
Christ's Harrowing of Hell" (Ph.D. diss.. University of Oregon, 1966), 156. 

^^ Odd Einar Haugen, "The Evaluation of Stemmatic Evidence. Recension and 
Revision of Nidrstigningar saga," in The Sixth International Saga Conference 28.7. - 
2.8.1985, Workshop Papers, 2 vols. (Copenhagen: The Amamagnaean Institute, 
1985), 1:423-50, esp. 428-38. This analysis is further developed in idem, "Stamtre 
og tekstlandskap: Studiar i resensjonsmetodikk med gnmnlag i Nidrstigningar 
saga" (Ph.D. diss.. University of Bergen, 1992). 

Norse Literature 265 

original translation and that the other older manuscripts were repre- 
sentative of a secondary redaction. Finally, he refers to the two interpo- 
lations which do appear in AM 238 fol. V, but which fit in better with 
the free rendering of the three older nianuscripts. Haugen demon- 
strates that none of the three older manuscripts can be the source of 
AM 238 fol. V, although there are striking similarities between AM 645 
4° and AM 238 fol. V, and tiiat, therefore, the exemplar of AM 238 fol. 
V must be a manuscript placed on a higher node in the stemma. 

Although Nidrstigningarsaga contains only the story of the Descent 
into Hell, the opening and concluding lines suggest that the translator 
had access to the whole text of the EN}^ The translation is based on 
the so-called A-group of texts in Tischendorf 's edition (the version that 
was no doubt most widely used in Western Europe),^'' though, of 
course, with the two interpolations added in the middle of the text and 
with some drastic modifications in the first and last chapters. The 
trcmslator begins with a note saying that, although this book has not 
been given the same prominence as other sacred writings, it contains 
nothing dubious ("Segia menn samsett hava Nichodemum lerisvein 
drotens," p. 1.10-11)^^ and then begins the story at chapter 2 {EN 18) 
in the Latin ("Nos autem cum essemus cum omnibus patribus nostris 
. . ."). The ending also differs considerably from the Latin. The Norse 
translator ignores the doctrinal character of his source text and con- 
cludes with the statement that Charinus and Leucius were not found 
in their graves after Christ's Resurrection, and that their book passed 
through many hands before it finally ended up in Constantinople. This 
omission of doctrinal elements in the Latin is one of the characteristics 
of the Norse translation as is the omission or simplification of repeti- 
tive or very detailed accounts. Thus, instead of rendering all five 
verses of Psalm 30 (D7 7.2 [EN 24] in the Latin), the translator renders 
only one and mentions that four more verses of that psalm were 
recited (".iiii. vers S0ng harm af J>eim salm framan," p. 7.14-15).^' In 
general, the omissions and simplifications are restricted to descriptions 
that appear superfluous to the movement of the story, although Nidr- 
stigningarsaga is not completely consistent in this respect. A number of 

'* Magnus M4r Lirusson, "Um NiSurstigningarsogu," 161. 

'^ Constantinus de Tischendorf, ed., Evangelia apocrypha, 2d rev. ed. (1876; 
rpt., Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1966). The chapter and patragraph numbers in this edi- 
tion will be given for references to the Latin text (A-group). For a recent discus- 
sion of the manuscripts and editions of the EN, see Zbigniew Izydorczyk, "The 
Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," Manuscripta 33 (1989): 169-91. 

" "Men say that Nicodemus, the Lord's disdple, composed it." 

" See Gary L. Aho, "Nidrstigningarsaga: An Old Norse Version of Christ's 
Harrowing of Hell," Scandinavian Sttidies 41 (1969): 150-59, esp. 157. 


rhetorical passages are retained; the Enoch and Elijah story, for exam- 
ple, which is a digression, remains in the translation, and only a few of 
the many direct and indirect speeches in the Latin are reduced. Some 
omissions or simplifications include instances in which the translation 
attempts to be more literal. Thus, figurative language is avoided; the 
metaphor "oriens" ("dayspring") for Christ in the Latin is left out^° 
as is the simile comparing Lazarus to an eagle (D/ 4.3 [EN 20]).^^ 
Related to this interest in the tangible as opposed to the abstract is, as 
noted above, the transformation of the triad of Christ, Satan, and 
Inferus to an opposition between Christ, on the one hand, and Satan, 
on the other, while Inferus is represented by a host of giants, devils, 
and trolls. 

Direct signs of Latin irifluence are found in Nidrstigningarsaga in 
the retention of Latin words or phrases, usually in the form of com- 
mands or pronouncements, ranging in length from a single word to 
several lines of printed text, usually with no accompanying transla- 
tion.^ Indirect signs of Latin ir\fluence are found in a number of 
"learned style" elements.^ These include the substantive use of adjec- 
tives ("SUct it sama sungo aller helger" [p. 7.15];^^ "Pa gerj^i si{?an 
dominus crossmarc ifer Adam oc oUom helgom oc toe i hand Adams 
oc ste up or helvite me6 her miclom, oc fylgjjo drotne aller helger" [p. 
7.20-22])^^ and the use of reflexive verbs expressing the passive (". . . 
oc mun J)at miscunnarsmior J)eim, er endrgetasc af vatne oc helgom 
annda, verjja endrgetna3r at eilifre saelo" [p. 3.8-10])^^ as well as the 

^^ ". . . ipse oriens filius dei" (D/ 2.3 [EN 18]; "even the dayspring, the Son of 
God") > "ipse fiUus dei" (p. 2.19; "the Son of God"); AM 238 fol. V: "sialfr guds 
son" (p. 17.23). Translations of quotations from the Latin Descensus A are based 
on M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament (1924; repr., Oxford: Clarendon 
Press, 1986). 

^^ "Nee ipsum Lazarum tenere potuimus, sed excutiens se ut aquila per 
omnem agilitatem et celeritatem salivit exiens a nobis, et ipsa terra quae tenebat 
Lazari corpus mortuum statim reddidit vivum" ("Neither could we keep Lazarus, 
but he, like an eagle shaking himself, leaped forth with all agility and swiftness, 
and departed from us, and the earth also which held the dead body of Lazarus 
straightway gave him up alive"). 

^ In AM 238 fol. V there is, however, a tendency to translate the Latin words 
and phrases. 

^^ See Jonas Kristj^sson, "Learned Style or Saga Style?" in Specvlxmi norroe- 
nvm: Norse Studies in Memory of Gabriel Turville-Petre, ed. Ursula Dronke et al. 
(Odense: Odense University Press, 1981), 260-92. 

^* "AU the holy [people] sang the same." 

" "Then the Lord made the sign of the cross over Adam and all the holy 
[people] and took Adam's hand and rose from hell with a large army, and all the 
holy [people] followed the Lord." AM 623 4°: "Slict et sama svmgo allir helgir" (p. 
12.35); AM 623 4": "I>a blezajsi drottinn Adam oc alia helga. I»a tok gujj i ha/nd 
Adami oc ste up mej? harm til paradiscir, oc fylgjjo drottni allir helgir" (p. 13.1-3). 

^* "amd may that be the oil of mercy to those who are bom again from water 

Norse Literature 267 

extensive use of the present participle. On the whole, the translation 
makes few attempts to retain literary embellishments, but in a few 
ii\stances alliteration in the Latin is reproduced (although alliteration 
in the Latin is not especially noticeable), e.g., "creatorem omnium crea- 
turarum" (D/ 10 [EN 26]) > "scapare allrar scepno" (p. 8.1 1).^^ Simi- 
larly, the translator manages in a few instances to duplicate Latin 
parallelisms, e.g., "Claudite portas crudeles aereas et vectes ferreos 
supponite et fortiter resistite" {DI 5.1 [EN 21]) > "Taket er, greypet oc 
byrget nu hlij)en aull oc feret fyrer iamgrindr oc iambranda, oc verezc 
hart oc standet vip vel" (p. 5.15-17).^^ But Nidrstigningarsaga is not a 
slavish translation of the Latin original. As Turville-Petre notes, the 
translator has often improved upon the source text in his accounts of 
the inhabitants of Inferus by using words and expressions from Norse 
mythology, which even in the twelfth century must have seemed 
archaic (see above) .^ Further native stylistic elements are the stereo- 
typed linguistic formulae used to introduce a new episode and to 
resume a suspended episode ("En ec tec fra J)vi at segia, er pa garpisc 
en fleira til stormerkia" [p. 4.18-19]; "Nu seal J?ar til mals taca, er ec 
hvarf apT fra" [p. 4.34]); "En nu tek ec J)ar til mals at segia J^at, hvat 
peii hava til tekit i helvite, sij)an er Satan for ut" [p. 5.13-14])^ as 
well as the use of decidedly native words like "J^inga" ("hold a meet- 
ing") and "kappi" ("champion"). 

and the Holy Spirit to become reborn to eternal bliss." AM 623 4°: ". . . oc mon 
|3at misconnarsmior {)eim, er endrberasc af vattni oc helgom anda, verjja til ?iUf- 
rar salo" (p. 9.11-12); AM 238 fol. V: ". . . ok mun Jjetta myskunar vidsmior vera 
til endrgetningar |3eim, er fa muno af vatni ok helgum anda i eilift lif" (p. 18.19- 

^^ "the maker of all creatures." AM 623 4°: "scapari allrar scepno" (p. 13.34); 
AM 233a fol.: "skapciri allrar skepnu" (p. 16.27). 

^ "Shut ye the hard gates of brass and put on them the bars of iron and 
withstand stoutly." AM 623 4°: "TakeJ) er nu grimmir, oc byrgij? hlij> oil ramliga 
mejp iamhurl>om oc latij) slagbranda vip innan, oc verizc hart oc standi]? vel vif " 
(p. 11.4-6); AM 233a fol.: "Takit l>er nu ok byrgit hUd a/11, ok setit fyrir iamgrindr 
ok iambranda, oc verit hart ok standit vid vel" (p. 15.12-13). 

^' Turville-Petre, Origins, 128; see also Fredrik Paasche, Norges og Islands lit- 
teratur inntil utgangen av middelalderen, rev. ed. by Anne Holtsmark, in Francis Bull 
et al., Norsk Utter aturhistorie, vol. 1 (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1957), 299. 

^ "But I am neglecting to say that more great wonders took place"; AM 623 
4°: "Nu mun ec segia fra stormerkiom J^eim, er J)a g0rl)osc" (p. 10.12); AM 238 
fol. V: omitted. 

"Now we must return to where we earlier left off"; AM 623 4°: "Nu seal |5ar 
til taka, er ver hurfom a{>an fra" (p. 10.26); AM 233a fol.: "Nu er fra {jvi at segia, 
hvat pevc hofduz at i helviti, sidan er Sathan for ut" (p. 15.10-11); AM 238 fol. V: 
"En pa er Jjau tauludo med sier, sem fyrir sagt" (p. 20.9). 

"But now 1 begin to tell what they did in hell after Satan had gone out"; AM 
623 4°: "Nu sccil segia fra atburjjom f)eim er i helviti varo" (p. 11.3). 


The translator frequently amplifies the text in order to enliven the 
narrative and to give it a more dramatic effect. As Fredrik Paasche 
notes, the trar\slator must have been greatly involved in the story .^^ 
Thus, ". . . Satan princeps et dux mortis" (DI 4.1 [EN 20]; "Satan the 
prince and chief of death") is expanded as follows: 

. . . Satan iotunn helvitis hofdingi, er stundom er mejj .vii. 
hefdom en stundom med .iii., en stundom i dreka like Ipess, er 
omorlegr er oc ogorlegr oc illegre a allar lundir." (P. 3.16-18).^^ 

Many of the additions, large or small and seemingly insignificant when 
analyzed individually, serve to give the story a militant tone. One such 
example is the rejoicing of "onmes sancti" {DI 8.2 [EN 24]; "all the 
saints") after Christ's Descent, which in the trar\slation is altered to 
"med her miclom" ("with a big army," p. 7.22). As Aho notes, the 
translator consistently represents Christ's descensus as a military action, 
a harrowing of Hell.^^ 

As mentioned above, Nidrstigningarsaga contains two interpola- 
tions, one connected with Revelation 19, the other with Job 41. They 
relate that Christ rides forth in majesty upon a white horse, his eyes 
burning, wearing a gown, and wrapped in a blood-drenched banner. 
Satan, deceived into believing Christ to be fearful of death and thus 
easy prey, transforms himself into the shape of the world serpent, the 
MidgarSsormr, and tries to swallow him. But Satan is snagged on "the 
hook of divinity," we are told, "like a fish on a hook or a mouse in a 
trap or a fox in a snare." Satan is then bound, and angels are com- 
manded to guard him. As James W. Marchand notes, Christ's strata- 
gem reflects the medieval motif of piafraus, according to which Christ 

'^ "Oversaetteren har vaert tatt av emnet" (Paasche, Norges og Islands litteratur, 
299). Paasche is of the opinion, however, that the Latin Descensus text is even 
more powerful (". . . tross alt mk det sies at slagkraften er starre i Descensus; til 
det opptrin av vill majestet som skildres i legenden om nedfarten passer i sserskilt 
hey grad latinens svaere masser"). 

^^ "Satan, the giant chieftain of hell, who sometimes hcis seven heads and 
sometimes three, and who is sometimes in the shape of a dragon, who is horrible 
and awful and evil in all respects" (AM 623 4°: ". . . Sathan heims hofJ)ingi, er 
stundom er J^ar met .vii. ha/fj^om ^pa .iii. i hre^iligo dreka Uki oc omorligo & allar 
lundir" [p. 9.18-19]; AM 238 fol. V: ". . . helvitis hofdingi leidtogi daudra i liking 
hraedilegs dreka ok miog auskurlegs, sa er stimdum syndiz Jjeim med sio hof- 
dum, en stundum med .iii., stundum i mannz Uki" [p. 18.27-29]). Aho, "A Com- 
parison," 171, notes that the amplification is more than just a colorful addition, 
because later on in the translation, Satan does change into a dragon. 

^ Aho, "Nidrstigningarsaga," 156-57. The phrase just mentioned is omitted in 
AM 623 4°. 

Norse Literature 269 

was allowed to use human cunning to defeat his enemy .^ The first 
interpolation appears just before Satan is driven out of Inferus: 

Pat var mioc i {)at mund dagra, er himennen opnaJ)isc, J)ar 
com fram fyrst hestr hvitr, en hofdingi sa rei|3 hesti Jjeim, er 
morgom hlutom er gofgari en gervaster aller aj)rer, augo hans 
varo sem elldz logi, hann hafdi corono a hafdi, er morg sigr- 
merki mate of syna, hann haf5i clej^i J)at umb auimor utan, er 
blojjstoket var; a clej)i hai\s yfer mioj^menni voro orj) pessi 
riten: rex regum et dominus dominonun; hann var solo biar- 
tare; hann leide efter ser her mikinn, aller peii, er honom 
fylg|50, rijjo hestom hvitom, oc voro aller cledir silki hvito oc 
voro lioser mioc. Sa inn ricsti allvalldr leit pa til Jorsalaborgar 
oc melte: "Gilldra su er at Jorsolom er g0r verpi mi|3garJ)sormi 
at scaj>a." Hann fal J^a 0ngul, {jaim er horvenn var agni oc eigi 
sia mate, i ezlino, J^vi er i gilldrona var lagit, oc sva vaj)inn gat 
hann folget, svat eigi of mate sia. Pa bauj) harm n0cqerom 
dyrlingom sinom at fara fyrer ser oc gora vart vij? como sina 
til helvitis. (P. 4.19-33).^ 

The second interpolation is about Satan's journey to Jerusalem to cap- 
ture the crucified Christ, so that he can prove Christ's human nature: 

Pa er Satan com ut, J)a sa hann englaUJ) mikit vera comet til 
helvitis, en gee eigi til fimdar vij) 3a, oc sneide harm J?ar hia. 
Pa bra hann ser i dreca like oc gordiz f)a sva mikill, at hann 
J)otesc liggia mundo umb heimen allan utan. Hann sa J)au 
tijjennde at Jorsolom, at Jesus Cristr var J)a i andlati, oc for 
Jjangat J)egar oc aetlaj)i at slita ondina t>egar fra honom. En J>a 
er hann com pai oc hugj)ez gl0pa mundo hann oc hafa med 

'* James W. Mcirchand, "Leviathan and the Mousetrap in the Nidrstigningar- 
saga," Scandinavian Studies 47 (1975): 328-38, esp. 333. 

^ "In an instant it beccune bright daylight, as the heavens opened. There 
came forward first a white horse, and the chieftain who rode it was in many re- 
spects nobler than the most accomplished of all others. His eyes were like burn- 
ing fleunes. He had a crown on his head and many tokens of victory were visible. 
He had a blood-drenched banner wrapped around himself, and on it were writ- 
ten these words: Rex regum et dominus dominorum. He was brighter thain the sun. 
He led a great army and all those who accompanied him rode white horses and 
were clothed in white silk and were very bright. That one, the most powerful 
leader, then looked toward Jerusalem and said, 'The trap which is ready at Jeru- 
salem is destined to maim the world-serpent.' He hid the hook inside the bait so 
that it could not be seen; thus was it laid upon the trap. The fishing line he was 
also able to hide, so that it could not be seen. Then he requested several of his 
holy companions to go before him and make known His coming to hell" (Aho, 
"NiSrstigningarsaga," 153). 


ser, J^a belt ongullinn godomsens harm, en crossmarkit fell a 
harm ovan, oc varj) harm pa sva veidr sem fiscr a ongle epa 
mus under treketi, ej^a sem melraki i gilldro, epter J)vi sem 
fyrer var spat. I>a for til dominus noster oc bat harm, en qvade 
til engla sina at varj^veita harm. (P. 5.1-11).^^ 

Aho views the interpolations as containing original material and con- 
nects them with the story of dorr's fishing expedition because of the 
use of the term "Midgar3sormr."^^ Marchand, however, argues 
against this theory, claiming that the interpolation of the allegory of 
Christ as the bait on the hook of the cross with which Leviathan was 
taken is a medieval commonplace considerably older than the f>6rr and 
Mi3gardsormr theme.^ He follows Magnus Mar Larusson in drawing 
attention to the fact that elsewhere in Old Norse Leviathan and the 
MiQgardsormr are equated,^^ and he refers to the Icelandic Homiliubdk, 
which mentions the theme of Leviathan on the hook in a section taken 
from Gregory the Great's homily on Mary Magdalen.'*^ The interpola- 

^ "Then when Satan came out, he saw a large force of angels had come to hell, 
but he did not go to meet them. He turned aside. Then he changed himself into the 
shape of a dragon and made himself so huge that it seemed he would encircle the 
entire earth. He saw those events in Jerusalem and that Jesus Christ was near deatti 
and he went there immediately and intended to tear the soul from him. But when 
he came there and thought that he would swallow him and carry him away, then 
the hook of divinity snagged him and the cross fell down upon him and he was 
caught like a fish on a hook or a mouse in a frap or a fox in a snare, as had been 
foretold. Then our Lord came forward and bound him and told his angels to guard 
him" (Marchand, "Leviathan and the Mousetrap," 328). 

'^ Aho, "Nidrstigningarsaga," 154-55. Gschwantler, "Christus, Thor und die 
Midgardschlange," 158, also notes, "In der oben ausgehobenen Stelle der Nidr- 
stigningar saga heifit es, dafi sich der Teufel in die Gestalt eines Drachen verwan- 
delte und so gro6 wurde, dafi man meinte, er liege auGen um die ganze Welt 
herum. Dafi hier der Ubersetzer an die Midgardschlange gedacht hat, die sich um 
den gcuizen Erdkreis schlingt, ist nicht zu bezweifeln." 

^ Marchand, "Leviathan and the Mousetrap," 333. See also Gschwantler, 
"Christus, Thor imd die Midgardschlange," 149. 

^^ Magnus Mar Larusson, "Um Nidurstigningarsogu," 164-65. 

*° Theodor Wis^n, ed., Homiliu-b6k: Islandska Homilier efter en handskrift frdti 
tolfte drhundradet (Lvind: Gleerup, 1872), 75-76: ". . . oc st6 hann pa yver eN foma 
fi^da es harm Ut ofriJ)ar meN beriasc i gegn ser. Jjat synde drotteN Jja es hann 
maelte vij) eN sefela iob. Mon eigi J)u draga leviajjan ['mijjgarjjsormr' is written 
superscript] a ongle ej?a bora kijjr bans mej? bauge. Sia gleypande hvalr merker 
gr6{)gan anskota JjaN es svelga vill allt maNkyn i daujsa. Agn es lagt a pngol en 
hvass broddr leynesc. Jjewa orm t6k almdttegr gup a gngle. ^a es hann sende son 
siN til dauj)a synelegan at likam en osynelegan at guj)d6me. Diabolus sa agn 
likams bans J)at es hann beit oc villde fyrfara. en gu{)doms broddr stangajje hann 
svasem pngoU. A gngle varj) hann tekeN. Jjuiat hann beidesc at gripa licams agn 
J)at es hann sa. en vass gujjdoms brodr sa es leyndr vas saferj)e harm. A pngle 
varj? harm tekeN. Jjuiat hann fek scajja afj>ui es harm beit. oc glatajie harm Jjeim 
es harm hafj)e ^{jr vellde yver. {juiat hann freystesc at gripa ^aN es hann hafjje 

Norse Literature 271 

tor or translator of Nidrstigningarsaga could, therefore, have appropriat- 
ed the theme from a number of sources, including the Homiliubok. 

Because of this interpolation, scholars have seen influence from 
Nidrstigningarsaga in Eysteinn Asgrimsson's Lilja from the mid-four- 
teenth century .^^ In one hundred stanzas in hrynhent meter, the poem 
tells of the history of the world from the Creation to the Annimciation, 
of the life and death of Christ, of the Ascension and the Day of Judge- 
ment. The last section contains the poet's confessions and prayers to 
Virgin Mary, the Lily. Paasche, Magnus Mar Larusson, and Thomas D. 
Hill draw attention to stanza 60, in which the poet refers to the image 
of Christ's humanity as the bait and his divinity as the hook by which 
Leviathan ("ormrinn bjugi," i.e., the Mi6gar6sormr) is caught:*^ 

En i andlati Jesii saeta 
OSS er flutt, at gaegz a krossinn 
fjandinn hafi ok frett at syndum 
faeraglgggr, ef ngkkur vaeri; 
hlaegir mik, at her mun teygjaz 
haiis forvitni ser til vansa, 
eigi mun nu ormr enn bjiigi 
agn svelgjandi a kroki fagna.*^ 

etke vellde igegn" (". . . and he rose above the Ancient Enemy when he let violent 
men attack him. This the Lord revealed when he spoke to Blessed Job: 'You can- 
not draw out Leviathan [the midgarS serpent] with a hook or pierce his jaw with 
a ring.' This voracious whale signifies the greedy DevU who wishes to swallow 
all mankind in death. The bait is put on the hook and the sharp point is hidden. 
Almighty God took the serpent with a hook when he sent His Son to die, visible 
in body, but invisible in divinity. The devil saw the bait of His body which he bit 
upon and wished to destroy, but the point of divinity snagged him Uke a hook. 
He was taken on a hook, because he was enticed to seize the bciit of the body, 
which he saw. But the sharp point of divinity which was hidden wounded him. 
He was taken on a hook, because he was hurt by that on which he bit. And he 
lost that over which he previously had power, because he sought to seize the One 
against Whom he had no power" [Marchand, "Leviathan and the Mousetrap," 
331-32]). The section is a free rendering of Homiliae in evangelia, lib. 2, hom. 25 ^L 
76:1194B-96C); see Gschwantler, "Christus, Thor und die Midgardschlange," 151 
n. 45, and Marchand, "Leviathan and the Mousetrap," 332. The section occurs 
also in AM 684c 4°; see Magnus Mar Larusson, "Um Nidurstigningarsogu," 164, 
and Marchand, "Leviathan and the Mousetrap," 336 n. 16. 

*' Finnur Jonsson, ed.. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning, Al-2 (tekst efter 
h^dskrifteme) and Bl-2 (rettet tekst) (1908-15; repr., Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 
1967 [A] and 1973 [B]), A2:363-95, B2:390-416. 

" Fredrik Paasche, Lilja. Et kvad til Guds moder (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1915); 
Magnus Mar Larusson, "Um Nidurstigningarsogu," 166; Thomas D. Hill, 
"Number and Pattern in Lilja," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 69 (1970): 
561-67, esp. 563. 

*^ Finnur Jonsson, Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning, B2:406. "And at the 
death of dear Jesus, we heard that the keen-sighted devil was eager at the cross 


Because of the appearance of the theme elsewhere in Old Norse-Ice- 
landic literature, it is, however, as Marchand points out, unnecessary 
to assume a direct connection between Nidrstigningarsaga and Lilja.^ 

The motif of the falling cross as a mousetrap in Nidrstigningar- 
saga — ^which, according to Aho, is also Northern — is, as Magnus M^r 
Larusson, Gschwantler, and Marchand note, a patristic commonplace 
too, which has its origin in Augustine.^ Marchand claims that "the 
mention of the mousetrap of the cross is perfectly a propos in this part 
of the story." He reiterates C. I. Minott's understanding of the mouse- 
trap as a means of overcoming the devil and forcing him to relinquish 
the captive souls. The reference to the mousetrap in Nidrstigningarsaga, 
therefore, suggests deft handling and clear understanding of the doc- 
trinal underpinning of the topos on the part of the interpolator or the 
author of his source text. Marchand also notes that there is nothing 
"Northern" about making the devil into a fox; it is just another patris- 
tic commonplace. 

There are indications that in the sixteenth century there was in 
existence a different medieval translation of the EN or else a fuller 
redaction of Nidrstigningarsaga. AM 727 4° 11, Tijdfordrijf Edur Lijtid 
Annals Kuer by Jon Gudmundsson laerdi (1574-1658), written in 1644, 
contains extracts from earlier literary works and Jon Gudmundsson's 
own notes and comments. A large portion of his commentary is 
devoted to the EN, and in comparison with the extant manuscripts of 
Nidrstigningarsaga his account is more detailed.^ Thus, whereas Nidr- 

and sought for sins — ^whether there might be any there — but I rejoice that his 
curiosity enticed him there for his disgrace. For the crooked serpent, swallowing 
the bait, will not have any joy in the hook." 

** Marchcind, "Leviathan and the Mousetrap," 33L 

*^ Magnus Mdr Ldrusson, "Um NiSurstigningarsogu," 166; Gschwantler, 
"Christus, Thor und die Midgardschlange," 155; Marchand, "Leviathan and the 
Mousetrap," 333-34. Augustine, "Sermo 130," par. 2 (PL 38:726). Gschwantler 
says, "Wenn der islandische Ubersetzer wirklich die Formulierung des August- 
inus vor sich hatte, was natiirlich nicht der Fall zu sein braucht, so gewahrt 
gerade diese Stelle einen interessanten Einblick in seine tJbersetzungstechnik: Er 
wuCte, daC 'muscipula' im Zusammenhang mit dem Kreuz nicht Mausefalle 
bedeuten kann, sondem einfach Falle. Daher lafit er das Kreuz auf den Teufel 
herabfallen, doch die urspriingliche Bedeutung von 'musdpula' rief in ihm die 
Vorstellvmg der Mausefalle hervor und so fiigte er das Bild von der Maus in der 
Mausefalle dem vom Fisch an der Angel und dem Fuchs in der Schlinge hinzu. 
Ubrigens konunt das Kreuz als Falle auch noch in den Sententiarum libri quattuor 
(Distinctio XIX) des Petrus Lombardus vor: In seiner stark von Anselm und 
Abalard beeinflufiten Erlosvingslehre gibt er ganz unvermittelt die oben cinge- 
fiihrte Stelle aus Augustinus wieder. Sollte die Nidrstigningar saga in der zweiten 
Halfte des 12. Jhs. entstanden sein, so mu6 man auch mit Petrus Lombardus, 
dessen Werke iiberaus grofie Verbreitung fanden, als Vermittler rechnen." 

*^ This section is found in Mariane Overgaard, ed.. The History of the Cross- 

Norse Literature 273 

stigningarsaga merely states that Charinus and Leudus wrote an ac- 
count of Christ's Descent ("Karinus oc Leucius . . . rito J)enna ^ot 
nifjrstigningar Crisz, af dvi at J^eir villdo eki vij? menn mela, oc leto 
bocena coma i hendr Nicodemo oc Joseph [p. 8.28-31]),*'' Jon 
Gudmundsson follows the Latin and tells that Charinus and Leucius 
each and in separate places wrote an account of Christ's Descent and 
that when the two accounts were compared, they were identical.^ 

Two translations of the EN survive in a number of Icelandic manu- 
scripts from the mid-eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth 
century: (1) Magnus Grimsson's translation (Reykjavik, National Li- 
brary [Lbs.] 509 4°) from the middle of the nineteenth century, and (2) 
an anonymous and somewhat older translation preserved in two 
recensions: A (Copenhagen, Royal Library [NkS; now in Lbs.] 68 4°, 
Lbs. 786 8^ Lbs. 1036 8°, Lbs. 1258 8°, Lbs. 2144 8°, JS 36 4°, JS 219 8°; 
and Reykjavik, Icelandic Literary Society [fB] 212 8°) and B (Lbs. 526 8°, 
Lbs. 1160 8°, Lbs. 1333 8°, Lbs. 2636 8°, JS 280 4'', JS 456 8^ fB 98 8^ and 
1b 393 8°).*^ Mariane Overgaard has examined the oldest of these 
manuscripts. Lbs. 1258 8° from 1751, and notes that the manuscript 
contains an accoimt of Charinus and Leucius which agrees with J6n 
Gudmundsson's. She is, however, of the opiiuon that the late character 
of the language would seem to preclude that the translation is identical 
with the one which was copied by the priests when Jon Gudmundsson 
was a child, and which he himself refers to ("{^eir nynaemustu nyju 
sida prestar skrifudu sier N. G. i bamdaemi mynu").^ She concludes: 
"He would thus seem to have been familiar either with a now-lost 
medieval translation of the Gospel of Nicodemus or else with a fuller 
redaction of NiSrstigiungar saga than that which now survives."^^ 
Since there are no verbal similarities between Nidrstigningarsaga and 
Tijdfordrijf and since there is no other (conclusive) evidence of a fuller 

Tree dorvn to Christ's Passion: Icelandic Legend Versions, Editiones Amamagnaeanae, 
Series B, vol. 26 (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1968), 79-82. 

*^ "Kariinus and Leucius . . . wrote this tale about Christ's Descent because 
they did not want to speak with men, and let the book come into the hands of 
Nicodemus and Joseph." 

** "Jjeir Joseph og Nichodemus badu J^essa ij menn og upprisu votta ad lata 
J)eim epter skrifadann Jjeirra vitnizburd. adur Jjeir skylldust ad. og t)eir jatudu 
Jjui. langt var i milium {leirra borga. enn J>egar Jjaer baekur voru samanbomar. 
fanst ecki einu ordi fleira nie faerra og eingin annar mismimur, helldur 6U 
sdmu ord i badum Jjeim bokum. um nidurstignijng vorz herra" (Overgaard, The 
History of the Cross-Tree, 85). 

*' Here and in the following, see Kirsten Wolf, "Om en 'tabt' islandsk over- 
saettelse af Nikodemusevangeliet," Arkiv for nordisk filologi 107 (1992): 167-79. 

^ "the priests of the most novel new faith wrote N. G. in my childhood." 

^' Overgaard, The History of the Cross-Tree, cxx-cxxi. 


redaction of Nidrstigningarsaga, the latter suggestion can probably be 
rejected. The former suggestion seems more likely, especially since 
both Lbs. 1258 8" and JS 280 4°, the second-oldest manuscript from 
1779, contain errors suggesting that neither is a copy of the original 
translation. It appears more probable that both manuscripts are de- 
rived from a copy of the original text and that between this copy and 
the two manuscripts there are missing links. Whether or not the 
original translation is identical with the translation that was copied by 
the priests when Jon Gudmundsson was a child caimot be ascertained, 
but the possibility cannot be excluded. 

A poetic paraphrase of EN material is found in the late medieval 
Nidurstigningsvisur,^^ which Jon I>orkelsson, Firmur Jonsson, Pall Eggert 
diason, Jon Sigurdsson and GuSbrandur Vigfusson, and Gschwantler 
all ascribe to the last Catholic bishop in Iceland, Jon Arason of H61ar, 
who was executed in 1550.^^ Apart from Eysteinn Asgrimsson, Jon 
Arason was no doubt the most celebrated poet of pre-Reformation 
times, though it may well be that his fame has caused him to be cred- 
ited with more verse than he actually composed. While there is no 
doubt of his authorship of Pislargrdtur and Davidsdiktur, his association 
with Nidurstigningsvisur as well as a number of other poems has been 

^^ This is the tide in the oldest manuscript of the visur (AM 713 4°); in the 
other manuscripts (except group D, which has no title), it is called either Nidur- 
stigningsvisur or Nidurstigningarvisur. The poem was first edited by J6n Sigurdsson 
and Gudbrandr Vigfusson, Biskupa sogur, 2 vols. (Copenhagen: MoUer, 1858-78), 
2:546-57, later by Finnur J6nsson, J6n Arasons religi0se digte, Det Kongelige Danske 
Videnskabemes Selskab, Historisk-filologiske Meddeleker, vol. 2, pt. 2 (Copenha- 
gen: Host & Sen, 1918), 58-69, and most recently by J6n Helgason, Islenzk midal- 
dakvxdi: Islandske digte fra senmiddelalderen, vol. 1, pt. 2 (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 
1936), 221-38. The present discussion of the poem is based on J6n Helgcison's edi- 
tion. The poem survives in a lairge number of manuscripts, which J6n Helgason 
(212-21) divides into nine groups (A-I). These nine groups go back to just as 
many mutually independent recordings from oral tradition, perhaps with the 
exception of C and D. That C and D are related is evident from stanzas 2-3, 
which are recast in a Lutheran spirit (e.g., "dogling himna straeta" [3.5] for "drot- 
tins uisit maeta"). A is the oldest manuscript and most probably the best, but it is 
not without errors. The mistake in "lasu lofspar hreinar" (33.3), probably vmder 
the influence of "lokur ok lasa alia" (34.3), provides evidence of its basis in oral 
tradition. B is close to A, but there appears to be no written textual relationship 
between the two groups. H presents a redaction which in a number of places is 
deliberately recast in order to eliminate Catholic elements and in order to clarify 
unclear phrases. 

^^ J6n torkelsson, Om digtningen p& Island i det 15. og 16. Arhundrede (Copen- 
hagen: H0st, 1888), 328; Finnur Jonsson, Den oldnorske og oldislandske Litteraturs 
Historic, 3 vols. (Copenhagen: Gad, 1920-24), 3:129; P^ Eggert 6lason, Menn og 
menntir sidskiptaaldarinrmr a islandi, vol. 1 (Reykjavik: B6kaverzlim Gu5m. Gama- 
lielssonar, 1919), 419; Jon Sigurdsson and Gudbrandr Vigfusson, Byskupa sogur 
2:546 n. 1; Gschwantler, "Christus, Thor und die Midgardschlange," 158. 

Norse Literature 275 

questioned. He is mentioned as author only in the title of manuscripts 
of the H-group (see n. 52 above), and his association with the poem 
may, therefore, be inaccurate.^ Finnur Jonsson, however, has drawn 
attention to verbal similarities between Nidurstigningsvisur and Pislar- 
grdtur and Ljomur, which has also been ascribed to Jon Arason, and 
claims that these point to one and the same poet.^ 

Although there is no formal division other than the stanzas, the 
poem falls naturally into four parts. (1) Stanzas 1-4 form an introduc- 
tion in which the poet laments his sins and calls upon the Divinity to 
help him compose a poem of praise. In stanza 2, the poet addresses the 
Virgin Mary directiy (cf. "kuaedit J^itt," "your poem"), which suggests 
that the poem is dedicated especially to her, and in stanza 4 the poet 
turns to Christ himself with a similar prayer. (2) Stanzas 5-9 give an 
account of the birth of Christ and the flight to Egypt.^ In stanza 10, 
the Jews' anger is mentioned, and in stanza 11, the poet refers directly 
to the Gesta Salvatoris, evidentiy as his (ultimate) source for the account 
of Christ's Harrowing of Hell (sts. 24^37).^ Stanzas 12-23 give an 
account of Judas's treason, the trial, and the Crucifixion.^ (3) Stanzas 
24-37 then describe Christ's Descent into Hell. (4) The conclusion (sts. 38- 
42) consists of a prayer for moral strengtii and guidance and for mercy. 

Only stanzas 15-37 of the poem bear any relation to the EN. More- 
over, the section corresponding to the Acta Pilati (sts. 15-23) bears no 

^ See Jakob Benediktsson, "Kristdigte," in Kulturhistorisk Leksikon for nordisk 
middelalder, vol. 9 (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde ctnd Bagger, 1964), cols. 292-94, esp. 
col. 293; J6n Helgason, Islettzk midaldakvxdi. 219. 

^ ]6n Arason religiese digte, 23. 

* Finnur Jonsson, Jon Arason religiese digte, 22, draws attention to stanzas 7.6-8 
("kuinnan kom til ydar ein / med vngan suein / er bar hun i& briosti sinu," "the 
wonian came to you alone / with a young boy / whom she carried by her 
breast"), i.e., the story ab>out the poor woman's child, Dysmas, whom Virgin 
Mary nursed. According to the legend, this child was to become one of the two 
robbers who were crucified together with Christ (cf. Lk. 23:42-43). The story is 
found in Old Norse in Mariu saga (C. R. Unger, ed., Mariu saga: Legender om 
Jomfru Maria og hendes jertegn [Oslo: Brogger & Christie, 1871], 39). 

^ "Nichodemus nadi / nefnilegur ad greina liost / d}T^tur drottin spadi / 
Dauids kongs fyrer mvinn ok briost / med prophetum ok prudum eingla choris / 
graedcirans pinu glosa tok / ok giordi aa bok / gesta saluatoris." 

^ Finnur Jonsson, Jon Arason religiase digte, 22, notes that the same accovmt is 
found in Pislargrdtur (sts. 12-23) and that the source is the same: stanza 13.5-8 
echoes Lk. 22:48, Mk. 14:14; stanza 14 echoes Jn. 18:10-11, etc.; stanza 16.5-8 
echoes Mk. 14:50; and stanza 19.6 echoes Jn. 19:2. He also notes details not men- 
tioned in Pislargrdtur, e.g., Judas's treason (sts. 12-13; mentioned also in Ljdmur, 
St. 10), the cutting off of the ear of the high-priest's servant (st. 14), and the flight 
of the disciples (st. 16). Pall Eggert 6lason, Menn og menntir, 419, suggests that 
this section of Nidurstigningsvisur (sts. 12-23) may have influenced Hallgrimur 
P^tursson's Passiusdlmar. 


more semblance to the EN than to the scattered accounts in the Vul- 
gate. The trial itself is described in stanzas 17-18, but they give few 
details and do not tell of Pilate's predicament, and Nicodemus and the 
people healed by Christ, who come forward on his behalf, are not 
mentioned. The story of the Crucifixion is rendered in stanzas 19-23, 
though with no mention of Gestas and Dysmas and of Joseph of 
Arimathea. Stanzas 24-27 correspond to Descensus Christi ad inferos or 
Nidrstigningarsaga, but the frame that contains the central story is sub- 
stantially reduced and changed. It is not presented as being recorded 
by Charinus and Leucius, who, in fact, are not mentioned at all; 
instead the poem begins at the words of Satan (D/ 4.1 [EN 20]; Nidrstig- 
ningarsaga, p. 3.15). The dialogue between Satan and Inferus, who — as 
in the three older manuscripts of Nidrstigningarsaga — is not personified 
but represented as "djpflar" ("devils"), is recorded in stanzas 24-26, 
the debate about the opening of the gates and Christ's entrance is 
described in stanzas 29-32, and the account of Christ's presence in 
Inferus is given in stanzas 33-37. 

In spite of the reference in stanza 11 to the Gesta Salvatoris, the 
relationship between the EN and the Nidurstigningsvisur appears to be 
only a thematic one. The relationship between Nidrstigningarsaga and 
the poem is more difficult to determine. Magnus Mar Larusson is of 
the opinion that the poem is based on the saga, but he offers no 
argumentation for his hypothesis.^^ Finnur Jonsson is more cautious 
and suggests that it may be based on memory or on a text different 
from the extant Nidrstigningarsaga.^ There are no verbal similarities 
between the two works, and although the poet may have been 
acquainted with the saga, it is doubtful whether it served as a direct 
literary source. A curious similarity between the two works is, how- 
ever, the reference to the "ormr" in the last three lines of stanza 27, 
which echoes the interpolations in Nidrstigningarsaga and, in particular, 
stanza 60 of Lilja: "upp aa krossinn ormuren skreid / ok andlatz beid / 
salina suelgia uilldi."^^ Magnus Mar Larusson draws attention to two 
manuscripts of Lilja, London, British Museum (BM) 4892 and AM 622 
4°, which have the reading "a krossi fagna" ("have joy in the cross") 

^' Magnus M^r Ldrusson, "Um NiSurstigningarsogu," 165. 

^ "... enten er fremstillingen, som den foreligger i udgaven i Heil[agra] 
m[anna] s[0gur], vilkSrlig behandlet (mulig efter hukommelsen?) eller ogsS en 
noget forskellig tekst benyttet . . . , i alle tilfaelde er fremstillingen naturligvis 
staerkt forkortet" (J6n Arason religiose digte, 22-23). 

*^ "Up the cross the serpent crawled and died wanting to swallow the soul." 
"Ormrinn" / "Oimrinn bjugi" is mentioned or alluded to also in Kristbdlkur (sts. 
13 and 45), Krossvisur U (st. 15), and Krosskvsedi (st. 24). All three poems are edited 
in J6n Helgason, tsleriTk midaldakvaedi, 144-56, 262-66, 277-85. 

Norse Literature 277 

instead of "A kroki fagna" ("have joy in the hook"). The reading in 
these two manuscripts resembles the reading in Nidurstigningsvisur.^ 

The Harrowing of Hell motif appears widely in Old Norse-Icelan- 
dic religions prose and poetry, though it is important to bear in mind 
that the EN was not the only source of the Harrowing of Hell theme 
and that the motif may not necessarily be derived directly or even 
indirectly from the EN (or Nidrstigningarsaga). Aho has examined a 
great number of homilies, saints' lives, and sagas of the apostles, and 
he has noted that references to the Harrowing are common but that 
none of them is particularly striking, and that they are undoubtedly 
derivative from standard Latin conceptions and treatments of the 
theme. Usually, the Harrowing is mentioned in a single phrase or 
sentence as merely one aspect of Christ's career.^ 

In poetry, the Harrowing is alluded to in two lines of star\za 4 in 
Einarr Skiilason's Geisli, a drdpa in drottkoaett meter on the death and 
miracles of St. Olafr Haraldsson, delivered in the cathedral of Ni5ar6ss 
(Trondheim) in 1153 or 1154, where it is stated that a multitude of 
deceased rose with Christ ("veitk, at mildr fra moldu / megin^pldi reis 
hplda").^ A further reference appears in Leidarvisan, a drdpa in drott- 
kvaett meter from the latter half of the twelfth century on the obser- 
vance of Sunday, which tells (st. 31) that Christ himself boimd the 
devil.^ Finally, Liknrhraut, a drdpa also in drottkoaett meter, written by 
an anonymous monk some time after 1300, on the Passion, the Descent, 
the Resurrection, and the Ascension, relates (st, 22) that Christ 
descended into hell to visit with the devils.^ 

" Gschwantler, "Christus, Thor und die Midgardschlange," 156, notes, "Rein 
sprachlich ist es natiirlich moglich, die Stelle so aufzufassen wie dies J6n Arason 
in seinen Nidrstignings visur getan hat . . . , dafi die Schlange auf das Kreiiz 
gekrochen sei. Ob die Form 'a krossi' nun urspriinglich ist oder sekundar, es 
scheint hier eine alte Variante der Allegorie vom gek6derten Leviathan vorzulie- 
gen, in der das Kreuz mit der Angel gleichgesetzt wird." 

" Aho, "A Comparison," 189, and "Nidrstigningarsaga," 155, however, draws 
attention to Tveggja postola saga Jons ok Jacobs (C. R. Unger, ed., Postola sogur: Le- 
gendariske fortxllinger om apostlemes liv deres karrtp for Kristendommens udbredelse 
samt deres martyrded [Oslo: Bentzen, 1874], 536-711), which says that after the Cru- 
cifixion Christ went "heriandi ... til helvitis . . . me3 hvellum hamri" (559.10-12). 
According to Aho, "Nidrstigningarsaga," 155, "[a]n Old Norse audience would 
immediately associate this Christ with I>6rr, who used Mjokiir, his wondrous 
hammer, to slay many an evil giant in just such a fashion." 

" Finnur J6nsson, Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning, Al:459-73, Bl:427-45, 
quotation at Bl:427, st. 4.5-6. 

" "Dag reis sinn med sigri / snjallastr fadir allra / (sj61i huggadi seggi / 
s61ar haudrs) af dau9a, / ^5r batt flaerdar — fr6flan / fjandi heilagr andi / fast ok 
fyrda leysti / frem3ar — styrkr 6r myrkrum" (ibid., Al:618-26, 31:622-33, quota- 
tion at Bl:630). See also Fredrik Paasche, Kristendom og kvad. En studie i norrem 
middelalder (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1914), 105. 

^ "Kvalidr st^, oUum aedri, / itr gramr til helvitis / daegra Wfls ept dauda / 


References in late medieval poems include stanza 116 of Rosa 
(another of Virgin Mary's many symbolic names), modelled on Lilja. A 
sixteenth-century manuscript, AM 622 4°, attributes the poem to 
Sigurdur blindur, though, in reality, his name is associated with 
another poem in the manuscript, the poem known as Milska, in which 
the Harrowing is alluded to in stanza 58. The theme is mentioned also 
in Pislardrdpa (sts. 24-26), Blomaros (sts. 196-200), and Ljomur (sts. 14- 
17),^'' which was very popular in Iceland and in the Faroe Islands.^ 
Further references are found in Kristbdlkur (sts. 48-49), Krossvisur I (sts. 
18-25),^^ and Krosskvaedi (st. 26).^° 

In secular literature a reference to the Harrowing appears in the 
Apostolic Creed contained in the Christian law section {Kristindomsbglkr) 
of the Landslgg of King Magnus Hakonarson lagabcetir (reigned 1263- 
1280): "for nidr til helvitis at leysa J)a3an alia sina menn."''^ The 
anonymous author of the so-called Fourth Grammatical Treatise, a hand- 
book of grammar and rhetoric composed towards the middle of the 
fourteenth century, was clearly also acquainted with the story of the 
Harrowing and makes a reference to it in stanza 21.1-4.^^ 

Textually far removed from but thematically related to the EN is 
the story of the life of Pontius Pilate in Gydinga saga, a mid-thirteenth- 
century compilation recording the history of the Jews from 175 BC to 
AD 44, by Brandr Jonsson, bishop of Holar (d. 1264).^^ Although the 

dJQfla rann at kanna; / leysti sinn at sQnnu / s61hallar gramr allan / ly3 fyr lifstr^ 
p]6daT I liknar-styrkr fra myrkrum" (Finnur Jonsson, Den norsk-islandske skjalde- 
digtning A2:150-59, B2:160-74, quotation at B2:166). See also Paasche, Kristendom 
og kvad, 128, and Magnus M^ Larusson, "Um Ni5urstigningarsogu," 166. 

^^ See J6n Arason religiese digte, 20, and Pdll Eggert 6lason, Menn og menntir, 

^ The Faroese version has been edited and discussed by R. Jensen, "Lj6mur," 
Aarb0ger for nordisk oldkyndighed og historie (1869): 311-88, and J6n Helgason, 
"Faereiske studier: I. Den eldste optegnelse av faereiske kvad. - H. Lj6mur pS 
Faeroiene," Maal og minne (1924): 29-48. 

^' See ]6n Arason religiese digte, 23, and Pill Eggert 6lason, Menn og menntir, 

^° All poems are edited in J6n Helgason, tslenzk midaldakvxdi, 6-35, 38-58, 59- 
64, 69-111, 122-39, 144-56, 253-60, 277-^5. 

^ "went down to hell to release all his men." R. Keyset and P. A. Munch, 
eds., Norges gamle love indtil 1387, 5 vols. (Oslo: Det Kgl. Norske Videnskabers 
Selskab, 1846-95), 2:306. 

^ "Pindr reis vpp me6 anda / angrleystv herfangi / hlyma gramr til himna 
/ heim sotti gu5 drottinn." Bjom Magniisson 6lsen, ed.. Den Tredje og Fjserde 
Grammatiske Afhandling i Snorres Edda tilligemed de Grammatiske Afhandlingers Prolog 
og To Andre Tilkeg, Samfvmd til udgivelse af gammel nordisk litteratur, vol. 12 
(Copenhagen: Knudtzon, 1884), 144. 

''^ Kirs ten Wolf, ed., Gydinga saga (Reykjavik: Stofnim Ama Magniissonar, 
1995). The text of the Pilate legend is found on pp. 171-80 and 187-216. The Pilate 

Norse Literature 279 

Pilate legend is ultimately derived from the Gesta Pilati, the direct 
source of the story in Gydinga saga appears to be an immediate precur- 
sor of the one in Jacobus a Voragine's Legenda aurea7* Parts of the 
Pilate legend are found also in Stephanus saga in Stock. Perg. fol. nr. 2 
in the Royal Library, Stockholm (saec. XIV), and AM 661 4° (saec. 
XV)7^ The text of the Pilate sections in Stephanus saga is on the whole 
identical to the text of the Pilate legend in Gydinga saga, but in some 
places it is more detailed and the rendering of the Latin more accurate. 
Accordingly, it has been argued that the Pilate section in Stephanus saga 
is derived from a fuller and nonextant version of Gydinga saga7^ 
Pilate material appears also in Stephanus saga in Stock. Perg. fol. nr. 
3,^ a collection of twenty-five legends from ca. 1525, presumably 
based on the Passionael, one of the revised and expanded translations 
of the Legenda aurea into Low German, though in the case of Stephanus 
saga Widding and Bekker-Nielsen argue that the Icelandic translator 
drew most of his material from the older version in Stock. Perg. fol. nr. 
2 and AM 661 4" and only occasionally supplemented his material 
from the Passioimel/^ From the late seventeenth century to the nine- 
teenth century there are numerous Icelandic manuscripts containing 
versions of the Pilate legend, only three of which have been edited.'^ 
Generally, these stories are longer than the medieval ones; they are 
augmented with matter drawn from the Bible, and commonplaces of a 

legend had previously been edited in Unger, Postola sogur, 151.12-53.4 and 

^* Jacobus a Voragine, Jacobi a Voragine Legenda aurea vulgo Historia Lombardica 
dicta, ed. Th. Graesse (1890; repr., Osnabriick: Zeller, 1965). The Pilate legend 
appears in chapter 35, "De passione Domini," etnd in chapter 57, "De sancto 
Jacobo apostolo." See Jon Helgason, "Gydinga saga i Trondheim," in Opuscula, 
vol. 5, Bibliotheca Amamagnaecina, vol. 31 (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1975), 343- 
76, esp. 362; and Kirsten Wolf, " 'Lifssaga Pilati' in Lbs. 4270 4to," Proceedings of 
the PMR Conference 12/13 (1987-«8): 239-62, esp. 243. 

^ Unger, Heilagra manna segur 2:287-309. 

^'^ J6n Helgason, "Gydinga saga," 370-71; Wolf, " 'Lifssaga Pilati,' " 244. 

"" Agnete Loth, ed., Reykjaholabok: Islandske helgenlegender, 2 vols., Editiones 
Amamagnaecinae, Series A, vols. 15-16 (Copenhagen: Reitzel, 1969-70). Stephanus 
saga is found in 1:213-45. 

"^^ Ole Widding and Hans Bekker-Nielsen, "En senmiddelalderUg legende- 
samling," Maal og minne (1960): 105-28, esp. 116; idem, "Low German Influence 
on Late Icelandic Hagiography," The Germanic Review 37 (1962): 237-62, esp. 251. 

^ AM 629 4° from 1697, the oldest of these manuscripts, is edited by Howard 
Martin ("The Legend of Pontius Pilate in Icelandic and Middle Low German: An 
Edition of Two Manuscripts" [Ph.D. diss.. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 
1971], 69-84); sections of Lbs. 4280 4" from 1791 are edited by Wolf (" 'Lifssaga 
Pilati,' " 246-54); and Lbs. 714 8° from the end of the eighteenth century by Kirs- 
ten Wolf, "An Extract of Gydinga saga in Lbs. 714 8vo," in Opuscula, vol. 9, Biblio- 
theca Amamagnaeana, vol. 39 (Copenhagen: Reitzel, 1991), 189-202. 


pious nature to edify the audience are frequently inserted. We are here 
dealing with a version or versions that have as their source not the 
Latin versions of the eleventh or twelfth centuries, nor vernacular 
franslations of these, but rather, as Howard Martin points out, "a more 
detailed source which evolved from the merging of several fraditions, 
both biblical and legendary."^" Although there is some discrepancy 
among these late Icelandic versions in wording and style, the content 
is usually more or less the same, and it is clear that they all go back to 
the Latin versions of the eleventh and twelfth centuries and that 
they — like the medieval versions — are derived ultimately from the 
Gesta Pilati. 

2. East Norse 

One fragment of an Old Danish poetic rendering of the Evangelium 
Nicodemi has survived: Stockholm, Royal Library (SKB) A 115 from ca. 
1325.®^ The manuscript consists of two adjacent leaves, both of which 
have been damaged. (The top margin has been frimmed to such an 
extent that the first line on both leaves has been eliminated, and on the 
second leaf the outer margin has been cut, and the bottom is torn.) The 
home of the anonymous author and the origin of the manuscript are 
considered to be Lund or its close vicinity. From a number of scribal 
errors it is clear that SKB A 115 does not present the original but is a 
copy of an older manuscript. Whether the older manuscript presented 
the original or was also a copy cannot be ascertained, but it is assumed 
that it was written in the same Scanian linguistic form as SKB A 115. 
The poem, written in knittel, the normal form of mainland Scandi- 
navian epic in the Middle Ages, appears to be based on Tischendorf's 
D^ group of texts (see above), i.e., Fabricius's text, to which reference 
will be made in the following,®^ but in a couple of instances there are 
readings that appear closer to other redactions. Johs. Brandum-Nielsen 
suggests that the poem may to some extent be relying on a nonextant 

^ Howard Martin, "The Legend of Pontius Pilate," Amsterdamer BeitrUge zur 
dlteren Germanistik 5 (1973): 95-188, quotation at 117. 

^' Johs. Br0ndum-Nielsen, ed., Et gammeldansk Digt om Christi Opstandelse efter 
Fragment Stockh. A 115 (c. 1325), Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabemes Selskab, 
Historisk-filologiske Meddelelser, vol. 35, pt. 1 (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1955). 
The poem had previously been edited by Isak Collijn, "Nyfunna fragment af 
fomsvenska hamdskrifter bland rakenskapsomslagen i Kammararkivet," Samlaren 
34 (1913): 275-93. The following discussion of the poem is essentially a resume of 
Brendum-Nielsen's exhaustive analysis of the work. 

^^ Joharmes Albertus Fabricius, ed.. Codex apocryphus Novi Testamenti (Ham- 
burg: Schiller, 1703). 

Norse Literature 281 

German poetic adaptation of the EN; he bases his argument on the fact 
that the two almost unrhymed lines of verse "aenghen stath mughu ui 
ihesum sparia. / Num ioseph sagho ui i arymathia" (w. 27-28) may 
point to a Middle High or Low German poem with the rhyme "(er)v- 
ragen - (in arymathia wi[r]) sagen." 

The poem contains altogetiier 103 lines of verse and covers the 
conclusion of the Gesta Pilati ("Congregati ergo sunt omnes Judaei . . . 
[EN 14]) and the begiiming of the Descensus Christi ad inferos (". . . et 
scribemus vobis omnia quae vidimus" [EN 17]). Its original size re- 
mains unknown. The text of the fragment appears to presuppose 
earlier (nonextant) accounts of Nicodemus's defense of Christ, of 
Joseph of Arimathea, who requested from Pilate the body of Christ and 
gave it burial, of the guardians at the grave, who brought the news of 
Christ's Resurrection, and of the three men of Galilee who witnessed 
the Ascension on the Mount of Olives. Definite or probable allusions 
to ti\ese accounts appear in the fragment. Other sections of the EN, such 
as the Jews' charges against Christ, Pilate's inquiry, and the account of 
Charinus and Leucius of the events in Inferus would appear to have 
been an obvious part of the poem. It is possible, perhaps probable, that 
the manuscript contained a gathering consisting of six to seven double- 
leaves, of which the surviving fragment formed the middle leaf. 

Although the rhymes reveal a poor prosodic routine, the work is 
not unpoetic. Several words or phrases suggest a poetic stylistic tradi- 
tion, whether native or foreign, such as the asyndetic "yuir biargh dala 
scogha thranga" (v. 22) as opposed to the common literary syndetic 
"gothe claerka. riddara oc suena" (v. 16), where influence from courtly 
style is discenuble in the vocabulary, the literary simile in "thaett hiarta 
ryghe s[ua hart sum eet] staal" (v. 64), and the ballad-like "gotha 
l[0kko oc cranka] bathe" (v. 76). But on the whole the style is straight- 
forward, e.g., "oc mana [tho them um guth o]c alt thaett guth scop" (v. 
94) and "Sighir [um thaen sum ith]aer resde af doth. / aer thaes guzs [sun 
sum OS thsesse] logh both" (w. 95-96). Brondum-Nielsen concludes 
that both usage and diction are close to prose and spoken language, 
although sometimes the style does suggest a literary tradition.^ 

The trar\slator (or adaptor) has rendered the Latin text freely. In a 
couple of instances he appears to follow the Vulgate rather than the 
EN. Thus, in the poem (v. 18) and in 4 Kings 2:17, Eliseus sends men 
out to seek Elias, whereas in the EN Eliseus (Helisaeus) himself goes 

^ "Ordbrug og Diktion . . . staar geme Prosaen og Talesproget naer, men 
haever sig stundom ogsaa til en heijere Stil med Praeg af litteraer Tradition. 
Jaevnheden giver Digtet et tiltalende Saerpraeg" (Br0ndiim-Nielsen, Et gammeldansk 
Digt, 13-14). 


out to seek Elias. In "Han bedes af [guth att han thaer] til lifthe. / att 
han mate ihesum i thae[tta lif hitta]" (vv. 71-72)** the poem seems 
closer to Luke 2:26 ("Et responsum acceperat a Spiritu sancto, non 
visurum se mortem, nisi prius videret Christum Domiru").^^ More- 
over, a few additions and amplifications are found; apart from the 
couplet "Att ihesus aer op standen af d0th. thaett sighia aei the ena. / 
Num thaet uittna gothe claerka. riddara oc suena" (vv. 15-16),*^ for 
which no parallel is found in the Latin text, these do not contain fac- 
tual information and are most probably caused by the rhyme, e.g., 
"mittamus viros in montes Israel" {EN 15) > "Sua latum ui nu oc maen 
um cring ganga. / yuir biargh dala scogha thranga" (w. 21-22).*^ 
Similarly, the "thre dagha" (v. 25; "three days") is probably the trans- 
lator's own addition, added as a parallel to the preceding "Thre 
dagha" in verse 19. In relation to the Latin, there are also several omis- 
sions and simplifications. Thus, the words of Aimas, Caiphas, and 
Nicodemus to Joseph (EN 15) are omitted, the speech of Annas and 
Caiphas is simplified {EN 14 > w. 9-12), and the same applies to the 
content of the letter to Joseph {EN 15 > w. 3S-34) and Joseph's praise 
of God {EN 15 > vv. 35-36). From verse 57 onwards the translator 
tightens the narrative considerably. After Christ's words to Joseph 
(". . . usque in quadragesimum diem non exeas de domo tua. Ego 
autem ambulo ad discipulos meos" [EN 15]),^ the EN tells of the 
Jews' dismay, of "quidam Levita" ("a certain Levite") who gives an 
account of the aged and devout Simeon, who took the infant Christ in 
his arms in the Temple and blessed him, of the three men of Galilee 
who repeat the account of the Ascension, and of Joseph, who relates to 
the Jews that Simeon's two sons also arose from their graves. In the 
poem, the references to both "quidam Levita" and the three men of 
Galilee are omitted, and their words are put into the mouth of Joseph, 
who thus assumes a more leading role in the narrative.^^ Moreover, 

** "The requests from God / that he will live to meet Jesus in this Ufe." 

^^ Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam Cletnentinam, ed. Albertus Colimga and Lauren- 
tius Turrado, 5th ed. (Madrid: La Editorial CatoUca, 1977). "It had been disclosed 
to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the 
Lord's Messiah"; The New English Bible with the Apocrypha: Oxford Study Edition 
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1976). 

^ "Not only they say that Jesus is arisen from death. / Good clerics, knights, 
and swains testify to that." 

*^ "let us send men into the mountains of Israel" > "Then let us now send 
men to walk / over mountains, valleys, dense forests." 

^ ". . . do not go out of your house imtil the fortieth day. But I am going to 
my disciples." 

^' See Tue Gad, Legenden i dansk middelalder (Copenhagen: Dansk Videnskabs 
Forlag, 1961), 253. 

Norse Literature 283 

according to the poem (w. 57-59), Joseph himself went to the Mount 
of Olives on the fortieth day and was one of the witnesses of -the 

An Old Swedish prose translation of the entire EN survives in 
three manuscripts. The oldest of these is SKB A 110 ("Codex Oxenstier- 
nianus") from Vadstena. It consists of 300 leaves and is not a single 
book as such, but rather a collection of six manuscripts. The Swedish 
Serrtio angelicus, a collection of miracles, and a translation of the Acts of 
the Apostles form a unit, the oldest, from 1385. The second book is 
incomplete and somewhat younger; it contains a translation of Vitae 
Patrum and a life of St. Bridget. The translation of the EN is found 
along with a section of St. Bridget's revelations and a number of saints' 
lives in the third book, written in a hand no later than the begiiming 
of the fifteenth century.^ The second manuscript. Codex Skokloster 3 
4° (also called "Passionarius," now in Stockholm, Royal Archive [SRA]) 
from 1450-1470, is presumably also from Vadstena.'^ It contains the 
Old Swedish Legendary {Fomsvenska legendariet), a collection of legends 
in chronological order from the beginning of Christianity until the 
mid-thirteenth century, composed probably by a Dominican friar no 
later than ca. 1300.'^ It is believed that the translation of the EN did 
not originally belong to the Old Swedish Legendary, since it is not found 
in the two older manuscripts of the legendary, SKB A 34 and Upps. C 
528.'^ The third manuscript, SKB A 3, from Vadstena, was written in 

^ G. E. Klemnung, ed., Klosterlasning, Samlinger utgifna af svenska fomskrift- 
saUskapet, vol. 15 (Stockholm: Norstedt & soner, 1877-78). The EN translation is 
on pp. 377-^19. The references in the following are to this edition. 

'^ Vilhelm Godel {Sveriges medeltidslitteratur. Proveniens [Stockholm: Nordiska 
bokhandeln, 1916], 46) draws attention to the fact that from some comments at 
the end of the manuscript it is clear that in 1531 it was owned by a certain Anna 
at Aspenas in Upland, the wife of Sten Thuresson Bielke. This might suggest that 
the codex is from that area, though he also notes that it gives the impression of 
being from Vadstena. 

^ Georg Stephens, ed., Ett fom-svenskt legendarium innehdllande medeltids 
kloster-sagor om helgon, pSfvar och kejsare ifrdn det Lsta till det XIILde irhundradet, 2 
vols., Samlingcir utgifria af svenska fomskrift-saUskapet, vol. 7, pts. 1-2 (Stock- 
holm: Norstedt & soner, 1847-58). Sections from SRA 3 4° are edited on pp. 965, 
994, 999-1006. Other manuscripts of textual significance containing this legendary 
are SKB A 34 (Codex Burectnus) from 1350; Uppsala, University librcury (Upps.) 
C 528 (Codex Bildstenianus) from the early fifteenth century; etnd SKB A 124, a 
fragment from ca. 1300-1350. For a discussion of the filiation of these manu- 
scripts, see Valter Jansson, Fomsvenska legendariet: Handskrifter och sprik, Nordiska 
texter och undersokningar utgivna i UppSeila av Bengt Hessebnan, vol. 4 (Stock- 
holm: Geber, 1934). 

^ The EN trai^lation is found in G. E. Klemming, ed., Svenska medeltidens 
bibelarbeten, 2 vols., Samlingar utgifna a( svenska fomskrift-sallskapet, vol. 9 
(Stockholm: Norstedt & soner, 1848-55), 2:373-411. 


1502. It originally consisted of a three-volume lectionary arranged 
according to the Church year for the nuns of Vadstena. The first 
volume contained the time from Simon and Judas (28 October) imtil 
the octave of Christmas, the second from the octave of Christmas until 
Trinity Sunday, and the third from Trinity Sunday until Simon and 
Judas. Volumes one and three were written by the sisters Katarina 
Gudhmundi and Anna Girmundi and prepared by Elseby Gjordsdotter 
under the direction of the abbess Anna Fickesdotter Bylow; volume 
two, about which little is known, is designated as "modher syster 
Maritta bok." Volume one is still extant, volume two is lost, and only 
six leaves are preserved of volume three. In volume one, fols. 13-19, 
chapters 1-9 of the EN translation are found under the title "Thetta ar 
last nichodemi." The rest of the translation appears on fols. 72-80 
under the title "Thetta ar aff nichudemi last som enkannelika rore wars 
herra opstandilse."^"* These sections of SKB A 3 4° have not been edited. 
Like the Danish poetic adaptation, the Swedish text is based on 
Tischendorf's D^-group of texts,'^ but unlike the Danish, the Swedish 
presents a very literal rendering of the Latin. In a few instances Latin 
phrases are retained (though with accompanying translations), espe- 
cially in the rendering of biblical quotations, e.g., "Nimc dimittis 
domine &c" (Lk. 2:29; p. 402.22-23).^^ Whereas omissions and simpli- 
fications are minor and generally rare, amplifications and expansions 
are common. They include doublet renderings (e.g., "honorabilis" [EN 
15] > "hedhirlikin ok alskelikin" [p. 400.9]),^^^ explanatory notes (e.g., 
"ab Arimathia" [EN 11] > "af aramathia swa hetande stadh i iudha- 
lande" [p. 393.31]),^^ as well as amplifications in order to create a 
more dramatic effect (e.g., "Ego nee unam culpam invenio in Jesum" 
[EN 4] > "Nw for stund sagdhe iak idhir, himil oc iordh oc sool hawir 
iak til tygh at iak ey finna kan ena minzsta sak mz ihesu" [p. 384.16- 
18]).^ Now and then factual information (from the biblical story, here 
from Jn. 19:29) is added, e.g., ". . . oc blandadhan dryk mz atikkio oc 
galla oc bitra mirram gutu the i swamp oc opsando thz for hans mun 

^ A list of the contents of volume one is given by G. E. Klemming, ed., Bona- 
venturas betraktelser ofver Christi lefveme: Legenden om Gregorius af Armenien, Sam- 
Unger utgifna ai svenska fomskrift-sallskapet, vol. 15 (Stockholm: Norstedt & 
soner, 1859-60), xii-xxiii. 

'^ See Brendum-Nielsen, Et gammeldansk Digt, 9. 

^ SRA 3 4° has "Nimc dimittis domine in pace seruum tuimi quia videnmt 
oculi mei salutare tuum" (Klemming, Svenska medeltidens bibelarbeten, 2:3%.12-14). 

'^ "honorable" > "honorable and lovable." 

'^ "from Arimathea" > "from a place in Judea cailled Arimathea." 

^ "I find not any one fault in Jesus" > "I told you that I have heaven, earth, 
and the svm as a testimony that I cannot find the smelliest fault in Jesus." 

Norse Literature 285 

at han skulle thz drikka" (p. 391.12-15). Although the translator 
adheres closely to the Latin text, native idiomatic expressions . are 
found, e.g., "ex fomicatione" {EN 2 and 9) > "af frillo sang" (p. 382.24) 
/ "i hordom" (p. 388.28),^°° "occidere" {EN 3) > "af daghom taka" 
(p. 383.21).^°^ A slight mistranslation occurs in the rendering of "... 
dicentes: Si ipsum esse creditis Jesum, qui vos suscitavit a mortuis, 
dicite nobis quod vidistis, et quomodo resuscitati estis a mortuis" {EN 
17) > "... vm i tron oppa ihesum som idhir opreste af dodha" (p. 
404.17-18).^°^ Finally, in the Swedish text (as in the Danish and in the 
Vulgate) Eliseus sends men out to seek Elias: ". . . wtualiom os man 
som vmgange Israels biargh. oc vanlica the finna han" (p. 399.13-16). 

Allusions to the Descent appear in Swedish and Danish prayer 
books from the late Middle Ages. In the Swedish prayer books, a refer- 
ence is found in prayer no. 23,^°^ and in the Danish books references 
appear in prayers nos. 23, 87, 209, and 341.^°^ The Daiush prayer 
book Visdoms spejl, nos. 527-836, preserved in AM 784 4° and AM 782 
4°, contains a direct allusion to the EN among the seventy-five Easter 

As in Old Norse-Icelandic literature, there are also in Old Danish 
and Swedish literature stories of the life of Pilate which are, at least 
thematically, related to the Gesta Pilati section of the EN. In Swedish, 
a Pilate legend, based on the Legenda aurea, is found in the Old Swedish 
Legendary (see above). Another Swedish version of the legend appears 
in SiBelinna threst from around 1420, which survives in SKB A 108 from 
ca. 1438-1442.^°^ The work is a trar\slation of a Low German adapta- 
tion of the Legenda aurea, Der grofie Seelentrost, from the mid-fourteenth 
century, but augmented with material drawn from the Vulgate, Peter 
Comestor's Historia scholastica, and a number of Swedish works. It con- 

100 "through fornication" > "from a concubine's bed" / "in adultery." 

^"^ "kill" > "take away from days." 

'°^ "saying: Believe ye that it is Jesus which reused you from the dead? TeU 
us how ye have arisen from the dead" > "if you believe in Jesus who rtiised you 
from the dead." See Brendum-Nielsen, Et gammeldansk Digt, 102. 

'"^ Robert Geete, ed., Sz>enska boner fr&n medeltiden, Samlingar utgifna af 
svenska fomskrift-sallskapet, vols. 131, 133, 135 (Stockholm: Norstedt & soner, 
1907-9), 63-66; see also Tue Gad, "Kristus," Kulturhistorisk Leksikonjbr nordisk mid- 
delalder, vol. 9 (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1964), cols. ?^!5-77, esp. col. 

'°* Karl Martin Nielsen, ed., Middelalderens danske bennebeger, 4 vols. (Copen- 
hagen: Gyldendal, 1945-63), 1:101-2, 2:80-81, 300-301. 

^°5 Ibid. 3:179^73. See Gad, Legenden, 278, and "Kristus," 376. 

'** Sam. Henning, ed., Sixlinna Ihrast. Feirsta delin off the bokinne som kallas 
Sixlinna threst, Samlingar utgifna af svenska fomskrift-sallskapet, vol. 59 (Uppsala: 
ALmquist & Wiksell, 1954). The Pilate legend is on pp. 265-72. 


sists in the main of an exposition of the Ten Commandments, which 
are explained through various biblical and profane legends, miracles, 
and the like. The Pilate legend is found in the exposition of the Fifth 
Commandnient, and it is clear that the translator or compiler was 
acquainted with the EN ("Tho scrifwer nichodemus at tha war herra 
war upstandin aff d0dha . . ." [p. 272]),^°^ though the source is here 
Upps. C 528 (Old Swedish Legendary, see n. 92), which refers to the EN 
on the same occasion. A translation from the original of the Swedish 
Sixlinna threst into Danish (Siaela trost) survives in the fragments Upps. 
C 529 and SKB A 109, botii from around 1425, but only the middle sec- 
tion of the Pilate legend is extant.^°^ 


The Evangelium Nicodemi and its subject enjoyed widespread popularity 
in Scandinavia throughout the Middle Ages and well into modem 
times. It is represented by a variety of translations ranging from very 
literal (the Old Swedish translation) to free renderings (the Old Norse- 
Icelandic Nidrstigningarsaga), and from prose to poetry (the Old Danish 
poem and the Icelandic Nidurstigningsvisur). Allusions to one of the 
main themes of the work, the Harrowing of Hell, are found widely 
both in poetry and prose, mostly within the religious literature of 
medieval Scandinavia, but significantly also in secular literature. King 
Magnus's Landslgg, and The Fourth Grammatical Treatise. The theme was 
of particular interest to medieval writers, and its varied, at times irmo- 
vative, treatment combined with powerful imagery and doctrinal con- 
tent provided writers and audiences alike with an absorbing, dramatic 
story concerning redemption and judgement. 

107 "Nxcodemus writes that when our Lord had arisen from the dead " See 

ibid., 272. 

'"^ Niels Nielsen, ed., Sjselens Trest ("Sixla trest"), Universitets-jubilaeets 
Danske Samfund (Copenhagen: Schultz, 1937-52), 28-30. 

The Gospel of Nicodemus in 

High German Literature of 

the Middle Ages' 


3n German-speaking countries, the Evangelium Nicodemi (EN) was 
undoubtedly the most popular and widely disseminated of the 
New Testament apocrypha. Its popularity in the Middle Ages is 
amply demonstrated by the large number of prose and verse adapta- 
\ions, which began to appear in the thirteenth century. In addition, the 
EN profoundly influenced vernacular writing. It provided biblical 
epics. Passion tracts, chronicles, sermons, legends, and especially relig- 
ious plays with imaginative motives, themes, and scenes, especially for 
the depiction of the Harrowing of HeU. 

1. Verse adaptations of the Evangelium Nicodemi 

The full text of the Evangelium Nicodemi was rendered into Middle 
High German verse three times: by Konrad von Heimesfurt at the 
begiiming of the thirteenth century, by Gundacker von Judenburg at 
the close of the same century, and by Heinrich von Hesler around 
1300.^ None of these renderings is an exact verse translation of the EN, 

' This essay was completed in 1992. I should like to thank Dr. Zbigniew 
Izydorczyk for information on Latin manuscripts of the Evangelium Nicodemi. 

^ Throughout this essay, Latin EN A is cited from H. C. Kim, ed.. The Gospel 
of Nicodemus: Gesta Salvatoris, Toronto Medieval Latin Texts, vol. 2 (Toronto: Pon- 
tifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1973), vmless otherwise noted; references are 
to chapter, paragraph, and line numbers. The Middle High German verse adap- 
tions of the EN have been discussed by Richard Paul Wiilcker, Das Evangelium 
Nicodemi in der ahendlandischen Literatur. Nebst drei excursen . . . (Paderbom: 
F. Schoningh, 1872), 34-50, and Achim Masser, Bibel- und Legendenepik des deut- 
schen Mittelalters, Grundlagen der Germanistik, vol. 19 (Berlin: E. Schmidt, 1976), 


but each revises the apocryphal source in an idiosyncratic manner; 
what they all have in common, however, is the extensive use of the 
canonical gospels in addition to the EN. Gundacker and Heinrich von 
Hesler also append — ^probably following their Latin sources — ^versions 
of the legend of Pilate and Veronica. 

1.1. The Urstende of Konrad von Heimesfurt 

The first German adaptation of the EN, the Urstende (2162 verses),^ 
was composed possibly as early as the first decade of the thirteenth 
century. Its author, Konrad von Heimesfurt, inscribes his name in an 
acrostic; he can probably be identified with a ministerial of the same 
name from Eichstatt, who between 1198 and 1212 appears four times 
in the lists of witnesses on the documents of Bishop Hartwig von 
Eichstatt. In its sole surviving manuscript, Vienna, Osterreichische 
Nationalbibliothek (ONB) MS. 2696, fols. 20vb-35ra (ca. 1300), Kon- 
rad's rendition of the pseudo-gospel bears the title "deu vrstende" 
("The Resurrection"), which, however, reflects only part of the poem's 
contents. Before the Urstende, Konrad had already written another 
verse narrative based on an apocryphal source, Unser vrouwen hinvart 
(1209 verses), a free translation of pseudo-Melito's Transitus Mariae. In 
both these poems, he is strongly influenced by the Middle High 
German tradition of courtly epic and especially by Hartmaim von 

As author of the apocryphal source of the Urstende Koru-ad names 
not Nicodemus but a Jew, "Eneas" (v. 54). Thus it is clear that the 
Latin antecedent of the poem should be sought among the rare manu- 
scripts in which the EN begins with the "Eneas" prologue, that is, 
among the manuscripts of EN B. A comparison of the Urstende with 
versior\s A and B of the EN shows, however, that Konrad used the 
longer B version only for the Gesta Pilati (EN 1-16); for the Descensus 
Christi ad inferos (i.e., EN 17-27), he turned to the A version.^ Such a 

^ Konrad von Heimesfurt, Unser vrouwen hinvart und Diu urstende, ed. Kurt 
Gartner and Werner J. Hoffman, Altdeutsche Textbibliothek, vol. 99 (Tubingen: 
Niemeyer, 1989), 53-129; all subsequent references will be to this edition. Idem, 
Diu urstende, ed. Kurt Gartner and Werner J. Hoffman, Altdeutsche Textbiblio- 
thek, vol. 106 (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1991), is a teaching edition. 

* On Konrad von Heimesfurt, see Werner Fechter, "Konrad von Heimesfurt," 
in Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters. Verfasserlexikon, 2d rev. ed., ed. Kurt Ruh 
(hereafter cited as Ruh, Verfasserlexikon), vol. 5 (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1985), 198- 
202, and the introduction to the scholarly edition of Konrad's poems, which con- 
tains a complete bibliography. 

^ For a discussion of Konrad's Latin model, but without the knowledge of the 
Salzburg manuscript discussed below, see Werner J. Hoffmann, "Konrad von 

High German Literature 289 

combination of Gesta B with Descensus A is found, as far as I know, in 
only one Latin manuscript, Salzburg, Erzabtei St. Peter MS. a V 27, 
fols. lllr-39v (saec. Xn ex.).^ The conclusion that the Salzburg manu- 
script preserves the Latin model of the Urstende is further supported by 
several variant readings of that manuscript, absent from other copies 
of EN B but present, through German equivalents, in the Urstende. 

Konrad's other sources, in addition to the EN, included the canoni- 
cal gospels and the Acts of Apostles. In fact, the events of the New 
Testament provide a framework for his narrative. His story begins 
with the events that led up to Jesus' trial before Pilate (w. 69-258; 
Palm Sunday, the decision to kill Jesus, the betrayal by Judas, and 
Jesus' arrest); the consequences of the trial — the Crucifixion and the 
burial — are treated very briefly (w. 743-822); a somewhat longer 
section on the Ascension and Pentecost (w. 1111-224) prepares the 
conclusion. Into this New Testament frame, Konrad inserts the inci- 
dents recorded in the EN: Jesus' trial before Pilate (w. 259-742), his 
Resurrection and the deliverance of Joseph of Arimathea (w. 823- 
1074), and the questioning of the witnesses to Jesus' Resurrection and 
Ascension and to his Descent into Hell (w. 1225-2148). 

Whenever Koru-ad draws on the New Testament, he remains 
faithful to his source, even if at times considerably condensing the 
canonical matter. He treats with greater freedom the material derived 
from the EN, which lies at the very heart of the poem, freely omitting, 
abbreviating, transposing, expanding, combining, or changing motives 
for actions. As a result, his account of the trial before Pilate (vv. 259- 
742) is much more lucid and concise than that of the EN. Firstiy, urUike 
the EN, it alternates the speeches of the prosecution and the defense; 
secondly, for the sake of clarity, it omits large portions of the original 
narrative (the messenger scene, Pilate's conversations with different 
witnesses, with Jesus, and with the leaders of the Jews); and thirdly, it 
remodels certain episodes, borrowing details from medieval German 
judicial procedures.^ In the next segment of the poem (w. 823-1074), 

Heimesfurt. Untersuchungen zu Quellen, Uberlieferung und Wirkung seiner 
beiden Werke Unser vrouwen hinvart und Urstende" (Ph.D. diss., Universitat Trier, 
1987), chap. 3.2. 

* Closely related to the Salzburg manuscript is Munich, Bayerische Staatsbib- 
liothek (BSB) Clm 17181, fols. 103r-12r (saec. XI), which preserves only the Gesta 
up to chap. 16.1. The Somnium Neronis appended to the EN in the Salzburg manu- 
script has been edited by Wolfgang Speyer, "Neue PUatus-Apokryphen," Vigiliae 
Christianae 32 (1978): 53-59. The Salzburg text represents also the exact model of 
the German prose translation G; see below, pp. 316. 

'^ Cf. Erich Klibansky, Gerichtsszene und Prozejlform in den erzahlenden deutschen 
Dichtungen des 12.-14. Jahrhunderts, Germanische Studien, vol. 40 (1925; repr., 
Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint Corp., 1967), 9-16. 


the deliverance of Joseph of Arimathea is more closely linked with the 
Resurrection of Jesus than in the EN, and the parallels between the two 
events receive greater emphasis. Moreover, the scenes involving the 
guards of the sepulcher contain more dialogue, while the discovery of 
Joseph's empty prison cell by the Jews is described vividly and realisti- 
cally. Both the threats of the Jews against Joseph at the opening of the 
prison, which are only hinted at in the EN with "cum iniuriis multis" 
("with many insults"),^ and the Jews' surprised reactions to the disap- 
pearance of the captive are given in direct speech. The final two 
episodes, concerned with Joseph of Arimathea and the sons of Simeon, 
Karinus and Leoncius (vv. 1225-2148), show clearly Konrad's indebted- 
ness to Middle High German courtly literature of about 1200, for this 
part of the poem is dominated by courtly ceremonies associated with 
arrivals, greetings, and farewells. The two episodes — the questioning 
of Joseph by the Jewish leaders regarding his liberation and the inter- 
view with the two sons of Simeon regarding Jesus' Descent into Hell — 
have essentially the same structure, even though such parallelism is 
absent from the EN. They both include the following elements: a) a 
festive welcome to the witnesses (w. 1289-95, 1568-73); b) negotiations 
behind closed doors, from which the "tumben" ("the uneducated") are 
excluded (w. 1320-31, 1574-80); c) expressions of respect and submis- 
sion (w. 1357-80, 1586-605); d) Nicodemus's role as spokesman for the 
Jews and his request that the witnesses recount their experiences (w. 
1390-425, 1606-67). The three witnesses to the Ascension, Addas, 
Finees, and Egeas, are only briefly mentioned, and their appearance 
(w. 1493-544) serves primarily to connect the other incidents involving 
questioning of witnesses (the confirmation of Joseph's statements and 
the reference to the two sons of Simeon). The report on the Descent 
into Hell (w. 1693-2116), which in the Urstende is introduced with the 
Canticum triumphale ("Cum rex gloriae Christus . . ."), is — like the trial 
before Pilate — structurally simplified in comparison with the EN; 
however, Seth's account of his journey to paradise (w. 1868-2020) is 
substantially enlarged and embellished with descriptions of the diffi- 
cult path and the wonderful fragrance of paradise. 

Characteristic of Konrad's handling of the apocryphal source is his 
unceasing attempt to simplify the plot and reduce it to its essentials. 
He focuses, to a greater extent than does the EN, on the witnesses' 
reports concerrung Jesus, on the testimonies and miracles stressing the 
truth of his Resurrection, and on the Jews' reactions to the attestations. 
Most of the departures from the EN result from this concern with the 
testimonies about Jesus. All events not directly tied to these attesta- 

EN B 12.2; Salzburg, Erzabtei St. Peter MS. a V 27, fol. 120r. 

High German Literature 291 

tions are either omitted or sharply reduced; incidents in which the 
witnesses are questioned are embellished; the witnesses' reports are 
elaborated whenever they concern the actions of Christ; and the 
reliability of the witnesses and the truthfulness of their testimorues are 
emphasized. After each attestation (a report of a witness or a miracle, 
such as the standards bowing before Jesus or Joseph's empty prison), 
the reaction of the Jews — more clearly dismissive or unbelieving than 
in the EN — is described. Even more antisemitic than the Latin apocry- 
phon, the Urstende depicts the Jews in a consistently negative light; this 
is evident, for instance, from such epithets as "mortgiten," "gotes 
widerwinnen" ("bloodthirsty," "foes of God"). Moreover, each of the 
three main sections of Koru-ad's work concludes with a polemical 
statement against the Jews: the account of the trial ends with a tumul- 
tuous scene, in which the Jews are compared to dogs (w. 729-42); the 
section on Joseph of Arimathea closes with a digression on the unbelief 
of the Jewish people (w. 1075-110); and the epilogue that follows the 
story of the Descent is similar in tone and content (w. 2149-62).' 

Although it has been preserved in a single complete manuscript, 
the Urstende exerted a significant ii\fluence on later authors who dealt 
with the same material. Approximately one third of the poem was 
incorporated into Heinrich von Miinchen's compilation of the Welt- 
chronik; it was also used by Gundacker von Judenburg, Hawich der 
Kellner, the author of the Befreiung der Altvater, and the Alemaimic 
translator of the EN (Alemannic version E)}° 

1.2. Gundacker von Judenburg's Christi Hort 

Toward the end of the thirteenth century, Gundacker von Judenburg 
(Steiermark) composed the poem Christi Hort (5294 verses)." The title 
of this work is attested in its only complete manuscript, Vieima, ONB 
MS. 15225 (saec. XIV in.): "daz puch haizt Christz hort." Nothing 
certain is known about the author, who identifies himself in the poem 
(w. 188-89) and who may have been a priest.^^ 

' For a detailed comparison of the sources, see Hoffmann, "Konrad von 
Heimesfurt," chaps. 3.3 (continuous commentary on the sources) and 3.4 (sum- 
mary of Konrad's treatment of his sources). The structure of the Urstende is repre- 
sented in tabular form in the introduction to its 1989 edition, Konrad von Heim- 
esfurt, Unser vrouwen hinvart, xlv-xlvi. 

'" Cf. sects. 1.2, 1.4, 2.3, and 3 below. 

" Gundackers von Judenburg "Christi Hort" aus der Wiener Handschrift, ed. J. 
Jaksche, Deutsche Texte des Mittelalters, vol. 18 (Berlin: Weidmemnsche Buch- 
handlung, 1910). 

'^ Werner Fechter, "Gundacker von Judenburg," in Ruh, Verfasserlexikon, vol. 3 
(1981), 303-6; Kurt Stiibiger, Untersuchungen zu Gundacker von Judenburg, German- 


The Christi Hort consists of several distinct sections so heteroge- 
neous in content and style that earlier scholars wondered whether they 
might not have been permed by different authors. It begins with an 
introduction on the history of salvation (w. 1-170), followed by the 
first prologue, in which the poet mentions his own name (w. 171-250), 
and by an account of the life of Jesus (through to his capture) in the 
form of a prayer (vv. 251-1304). Each of the twenty-three subsections 
into which this narrative prayer is divided opens with an appeal to 
Jesus, "ich man dich" ("I remind you"), and evokes a particular scene 
in his life. Only then, ushered by another prologue (w. 1305-26), does 
the main account of the Passion, Resurrection, and Pentecost begin (w. 
1327-4044). In this latter part of the poem, Gundacker used not only 
the EN and the Bible but other sources as well, including a Latin 
liturgy and a planctus Marine. The poem concludes with an extended 
version of the legend of Pilate and Veronica (vv. 4045-5294).^^ 

In the second prologue, Gundacker identifies "Nichodemus" as the 
main source of his Passion story (w. 1305-13); he claims that his 
source is reliable because Nicodemus was present at all of the events 
as an eyewitness: "der berichtet wc\s da von sus wie ez alles ergie unt 
wie ez geschach, want er ez allez horte unt sach" (vv. 1310-12; "he 
reports to us how it all took place and how it happened, because he 
heard and saw it all"). He emphasizes the authenticity of the events as 
recounted in the EN on another occasion as well, namely in his account 
of the miraculous deliverance of Joseph of Arimathea: "swie ez doch 
nicht geschriben ist an dem ewangelio, so ist ez doch benam also, ez 
ist endlichen war" (w. 2276-79; "even though it is not written in the 
gospel, it is nevertheless actually so. It is absolutely true"). 

The Latin EN that lies behind Gundacker's poem must have be- 
longed to version A, as evidenced by his dating of the Passion (w. 
1381-95; cf. prologue in A). More specifically, his source manuscript 
must have stemmed from the textual tradition which appended to EN 
A two additional texts, the Somnium Neronis and the Signa in eversione 
Iherusalem, which have survived only as addenda to the Latin apocry- 
phon. Chapters 1 and 2 of their joint edition by Ernst von Dobschiitz 
provided the basis for vv. 3903-4044 of the poem.^'* Gundacker's 

ische Studien, vol. 15 (1922; repr., Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint Corp., 1%7). 

" Stubiger, Untersuchungen, 79-123. 

^* Ernst von Dobschiitz, "A Collection of Old Latin Bible Quotations: Somni- 
um Neronis," Journal of Theological Studies 16 (1915): 12.1-15.9. Dobschiitz mentions 
Gundacker on pp. 7-8. For a note on the source of this section of Gundacker's 
poem, see also Stiibiger, Untersuchungen, 106-14, who, however, was unaware of 
Dobschiitz's edition; cf. also the partial edition of the Somnium by Johann Carl 
Thilo, Codex apocryphus Novi Testamenti (Leipzig: F. C. G. Vogel, 1832), cxl n. 139. 

High German Literature 293 

Latin manuscript may have also contained a source of the poem's 
concluding section, the Latin prose legend of Pilate composed in 
Germany in the twelfth century and usually titled Historia apocrypha of 
the Legenda aurea because Jacobus a Voragine refers to it repeatedly in 
his hagiographical compilation.^^ 

Gundacker reproduces the substance of the EN with its addenda 
much more faithfully than does Konrad von Heimesfurt, even though 
his rendition is, for the most part, condensed and abbreviated. In some 
sections in which he embellishes his source, he follows such literary 
models as the Urstende and the Mai und Beaflor. 

In the account of the trial before Pilate, Gundacker strictly sepa- 
rates the apocryphal from the canonical. The first part of that account 
(w. 1396-704) relies solely on the EN and adopts, although not with- 
out considerable compression, its apocryphal sequence of events. 
Gundacker expands only the messenger scene and the miracle of the 
standards (w. 1420-561); those chapters of the EN which agree with 
the canorucal gospels (2.5-6, 3, 4.1-2) he ignores here completely. The 
second part of the poem's account of the trial (w. 1705-914) is based 
entirely on the canonical gospels. 

Gundacker grounds his narrative of the events that followed 
Christ's death on the cross (w. 2145-3032) on well-known scriptural 
material (from the burial up to the miracles at Pentecost) and fits 
excerpts from the EN (the scene with the guards of the sepulcher and 
the arrest of Joseph of Arimathea) into this canonical setting. It is 
noteworthy that Christ's Descent into Hell and the deliverance of 
Joseph of Arimathea are briefly recounted (w. 2247-92) first after the 
burial, that is, at the chronologically "correct" point; later they are 
presented again, just as in the EN, in the form of eyewitness accounts. 
One motif of Gundacker's description of Joseph's empty prison cell is 
not found in the EN: he mentions that a spring broke to the surface in 

All other writers on Gundacker, including Karl-Emst Geith, "Eine Quelle zu Gun- 
dackers von Judenburg Christi Hort," Zeitschrift fur deutsches Altertum 97 (1968): 
57-68; and idem, review of Das Evangelium Nicodemi in spdtmittelalterlicher 
deutscher Prosa. Texte, edited by Achim Masser and Max Siller, Arbitrium 7 (1989): 
286-89, seem not to have been aware of the Somnium, which is essential for study 
of the sources of the Christi Hort. 

" For proof that the Historia apocrypha was a source of Gvmdacker's work, see 
Ernst von Dobschiitz, Christusbilder. Untersuchungen zur christlichen Legende, Texte 
imd Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der cdtchristlichen Literatur, vol. 18, N.F., 
vol. 3 (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1899), 300*, no. 42; for a complete edition of this 
Latin prose text on Pilate, see Joachim Knape, "Die Historia apocrypha der 
Legenda aurea (dt.)," in Joachim Knape <md Karl Strobel, Zur Deutung von 
Geschichte in Antike und Mittelalter, Bamberger Hochschulschriften, vol. 11 (Bemi- 
berg: Bayerische Verlagsanstalt, 1985), 113-72. Cf. also idem, Pilatus, in Ruh, 
Verfasserlexikon, vol. 7 (1989), 673-74. 


the prison and that Jesus used it to baptize Joseph (w. 2423-28; cf. also 
w. 3354-57). According to Stiibiger, this may be an allusion to the 
well-known legend from the Martyrium Petri, according to which Peter 
caused a spring to break to the surface in his prison, so that he could 
baptize his prison guards.^^ 

Having dealt with the events of Pentecost (w. 2885-3032), Gun- 
dacker turns his attention to the examination of the witnesses by the 
Jewish leaders (w. 3033-612). From this point onward (after v. 3033), 
he follows exclusively the EN {14r-27), yet time and again he models 
individual incidents on Konrad von Heimesfurt's Urstende. In particu- 
lar, he embellishes with details of courtly ceremony the incidents 
involving Joseph of Arimathea and the two sons of Simeon, Karinus 
and Leoncius.^^ Gundacker's dependence on Konrad shows also in 
the report on the Descent into Hell (w. 3613-864), most notably in 
Seth's description of his journey to paradise (w. 3686-742). On the 
whole, however, Gundacker's version of the Descent is a faithful, albeit 
again highly compressed, representation of the Descensus. It ends, as in 
the EN, with Joseph and Nicodemus handing over the written report 
of the two brothers to Pilate (w. 3885-902), but then adds a touch of 
its own by making Pilate send the same report — not his own letter, as 
in the EN— to King Claudius in Rome (w. 3903-5). 

The mention of Pilate's dispatch to Rome forms, just as in Gun- 
dacker's Latin source, a transition to the appendix comprising the Som- 
nium Neronis and the Signa in eversione Iherusalem. The appendix relates 
how Claudius gave Pilate's "prieve" ("letters") to Nero, and how 
Christ appeared to Nero in a dream and commanded him to avenge 
his death. Moved by this vision and by Pilate's letter, Nero orders 
Vespasian to wreak vengeance on the Jews (w. 3906-42). This episode 
is followed by a listing of the seven omens foreshadowing the destruc- 
tion of Jerusalem (w. 3943-4044). 

The redaction of the EN which served as Gundacker's model — the 
EN proper augmented with the Somnium — ^probably concluded with the 
omens. Gundacker, however, continues his story with a detailed account 
of the legend of Pilate and Veronica (w. 4045-5294). Here, his source is 
the Latin prose legend of Pilate, the so-called Historia apocrypha of the 
Legenda aurea}^ On the whole, the poet follows the narrative structure 
of the Historia relatively closely,^^ (in his retelling of the legend, Tiberius's 

'* Stiibiger, Untersuchungen, 103-4. 

'^ The influence of the Urstende on Gundacker is discussed by Hoffmann, 
"Konrad von Heimesfurt," chap. 4.2.3. 

'* Knape, "Die Historia apocrypha," 149.67-55.182. Knape edited a German 
translation of this prose text on Pilate, together vsdth the Latin original, placed 
below the Germcin text (pp. 146-65). I am citing the line numbering of the Latin. 

^' Vv. 4045-348, the healing of Vespasian, correspond to pp. 149.67-51.107 of 

High German Literature 295 

messenger is called Columban, not Albanus); however, he fleshes out the 
brief narrative of his source with detailed descriptions of the councils, of 
tiie selection and arming of messengers, of ocean voyages, and of re- 
ceptions and greetings. The most important model for these descriptions 
was a courtly romance in verse, Mai und Beaflor}^ 

Gundacker certainly did not use a German prose translation of the 
Historia apocrypha as the basis of his legend of Pilate and Veronica. The 
German text alleged by Geith^^ to have been Gundacker's source is, 
in fact, a prose redaction of Gundacker's version, inserted into the so- 
called Klostemeiiburger Evangelienwerk; it was first identified by Gartner. ^ 
That this German text is dependent on Gundacker and not the reverse 
can be easily demonstrated, for Gundacker remains much closer to the 
Latin exemplar than does the prose text. The prose includes not only 
the legend of Pilate and Veronica but also the conclusion of the EN 
(27.5; presentation of the letters to Pilate) and the appendix to the EN 
with the Somnium Neronis and the omens foreshadowing the destruc- 
tion of Jerusalem. While Gundacker recounts the events of the appen- 
dix exactly in the sequence of his Latin source, the author of the prose 
text divides them up and inserts them at various points in the legend 
of Pilate and Veronica.^ Like Gundacker, he presents the conclusion 
of the EN and Nero's vision,^* but he places Nero's orders to Vespa- 
sian to punish the Jews in the middle of the Pilate- Veronica legend,^ 
and t' le seven omens toward the end.^^ 

the prose text; w. 4349-5088, the healing of emperor Tiberius, to pp. 151.108- 
55.175; and w. 5089-5294, the death of PUate, to p. 155.176-82. 

^ Werner Fechter, "Gundacker von Judenburg und Mai und Beaflor," Amster- 
damer Beitrage zur alteren Germanistik 7 (1974): 187-208. 

^^ Geith, "Eine Quelle"; idem, review of Das Evangelium Nicodemi in spdtmittel- 
alterlicher deutscher Prosa, 287-88. 

" Kurt Gartner, "Klostemeuburger Evangelienwerk," in Ruh, Verfasserlexikon, 
vol. 4 (1983), 1248. This work has been edited as an appendix to a German trans- 
lation of the EN, version H, in Achim Masser and Max Siller, eds.. Das Evangelium 
Nicodemi in spdtmittelalterlicher deutscher Prosa. Texte, Germanische BibUothek, 4th 
ser., Texte und Kommentar (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1987), 428-44. 

" Geith, "Eine Quelle," 63 n. 1, and Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nico- 
demi, 35, and n. 42, also identify these differences in the sequence of events be- 
tween Gundacker and the German prose text, but they explain them incorrectly — 
being unaware of the Latin source used by Gundacker — as adterations made by 

^* Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 428.11-20; cf. Christi Hort, w. 

" Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 440.336-42; cf. Christi Hort, w. 

^ Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 442.395-44.441; cf . Christi Hort, 
w. 3943-4044. 


1.3. The Evangelium Nicodemi of Heinrich von Hesler 

The third Middle High German verse redaction of the EN was com- 
posed by Heinrich von Hesler, probably aroimd 1300.^^ Heinrich was 
presumably a native of Burghesler in Thuringia, west of Naumburg an 
der Saale. In addition to the Evangelium Nicodemi (5392 verses)/* he is 
responsible for two other poems, the Apocalypse (his most ambitious 
composition in 23254 verses) and the ErWsung (surviving only in frag- 
ments). Although he identifies himself as author in the latter two 
poems, no such self-identification accompanies the Evanglium Nicodemi; 
his authorship of the translation is, however, certain because it shows 
marked similarity in language, vocabulary, rhyming patterns, and style 
to the two signed poems, as demonstrated by Amersbach and de 
Boor.^^ Wiedmer's study of Heinrich's theological thought further 
confirms this conclusion.^ 

The writings of Heinrich von Hesler are generally associated with 
the literature of the Teutonic Knights^^ as they were disseminated 
mainly among the members of that order; the Apocalypse is even 
connected with a pictorial cycle which originated within the order.^^ 
However, there is no clear evidence that Heinrich's poems were 
commissioned by the Teutonic Knights or that he himself belonged to 
the order, although we know that he was a knight (cf. Apocalypse, v. 

In his Evangelium Nicodemi, Heinrich tries — like Konrad von 
Heimesfurt and Gundacker — to combine the events related in his 
apocryphal source with those recorded in the canonical gospels and 
thereby to make his accoimt more comprehensive. However, unlike his 

^^ Cf. Achim Masser, "Heinrich von Hesler," in Ruh, VerfasserlexHam, vol. 3 
(1981), 749-55. 

^* Heinrich von Hesler, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, ed. Karl Helm, Bibliothek 
des Litterarischen Vereins, vol. 224 (1902; repr., Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1976). 

^' Karl Amersbach, Uber die Identitdt des Verfassers des gereimten Evangeliums 
Nicodemi mit Heinrich Hesler, 2 vols., Schiilprogramm Gymnasium Konstcinz (Kon- 
stanz: F. Stadler, 1883-84); Helmut de Boor, "Stilbeobachtungen zu Heinrich von 
Hesler," in Vom Werden des deutschen Geistes. Festgabe Gustav Ehrismann, ed. Paul 
Merker and Wolfgang Stammler (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1925), 124-48. 

^ Peter Wiedmer, Siindenfall und ErWsung bei Heinrich von Hesler. Ein Beitrag 
zum Verstandnis der deutschen Bibelepik des spaten Mittelalters, Easier Studien zur 
deutschen Sprache und Literatur, vol. 53 (Bern: Francke, 1977), 11-20. 

^' Karl Helm and Walther Ziesemer, Die Literatur des Deutschen Ritterordens, 
GiePener Beitrage zur deutschen Philologie, vol. 94 (GiePen: W. Schmitz, 1951), 

'^ Gerhard Bott and Udo Arnold, eds., 800 ]ahre Deutscher Orden. Ausstellung 
des Germanischen Nationalmuseums Numberg . . . (Giitersloh: Bertelsmann Lexikon 
Verlag, 1990), 99-100, nos. 0.7.6 and n.7.7. 

High German Literature 297 

predecessors, he does not recount the canonical narrative through to 
the miracles at Pentecost, but rather confines himself to the events of 
the Passion (up to the placing of the guards at Jesus' tomb); he re- 
coimts them in two long passages (w. 393-678 and 1418-2284), striving 
to present the canonical material as exhaustively as possible. 

The entire poem is structured in the following manner: w. 1-300, 
introduction to the Fall of Man; w. 301-92, prologue (with an invoca- 
tion of the Holy Spirit and a list of sources); w. 393-678, Passion 
events prior to the trial (decision by the Jews to kill Jesus, the Last 
Supper, Gethsemane, Jesus' arrest, Peter's denial); w. 679-1417, Jesus' 
trial before Pilate (based on EN 1-9); w. 1418-2284, Jesus' appearance 
before Herod, the death sentence, the Crucifixion, the laying of Jesus 
in the grave, the placing of guards at the tomb (based on the canonical 
gospels, with some sections from the EN); w. 2285-841, questioning of 
the witnesses (based on EN 12.1 to 16); w. 2842-3779, report on the 
Descent into Hell; w. 3780-803, reaction to the report and Pilate's 
letter; w. 3804-4713, legend of Pilate and Veronica and a brief account 
of the destruction of Jerusalem; w. 4714-5392, extended invective 
against the Jews. 

At several points, Heiruich reflects on the relationship between the 
EN and the canonical gospels and offers reasons why the testimony of 
Nicodemus is particularly important. In the prologue (w. 369-92), he 
points out that "durch tumme lute" ("because of uneducated people") 
the four evangelists passed over many things in their gospels, which 
were "voltriben" ("expanded," "completed") by a "meister," namely 
Nicodemus. Nicodemus was well acquainted not only with the leaders 
of the Jews but — according to John 18 — with Jesus as well: "die rehten 
waren mere beidenthalp er wiste" (w. 382-83; "he knew the true news 
from both sides"). Sirrular thoughts are expressed again at the begin- 
rung of the trial (w. 679-711): Nicodemus, "tougen Cristes kneht" 
("secretly a servant of Christ"), was present at Jesus' trial as an ear- and 
eyewitness, unlike the disciples who had all fled for fear of the Jews. He 
knew the secrets of the Jewish leaders, who did not conceal anything 
from him and dared not harm him (he was "des kunnes also stare," 
"from a powerful fanuly") when he argued in court on Jesus' behalf. 

Discussing the words of Jesus on the cross, Heim-ich remarks on 
the discrepancies among the four evangelists and on their relation to 
ti\e account of Nicodemus (w. 2166-91). He notes that only Mark 
(15:34) and Matthew (27:46) include Christ's words "Eli, Eli, lamma 
sabacthani? hoc est: Deus meus, Deus meus, ut quid dereliquisti me?" 
("that is to say: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"). Luke 
and Nicodemus agree — against Mark and Matthew — in a different 
wording: Nicodemus gives the Hebrew phrase, "Via alach, hoe fricole" 
(w. 2185-86), and Lucas translates it, "Vater ich bevele in dine hant 


mine sele!" (w. 2188-89; "Father, into thy hands I commend my 
spirit"). In contrast to the three synoptic evangelists and Nicodemus, 
John gives neither of the two utterances: "Johannes die rede vorswigen 
hat, sin passio sunder titel stat" (w. 2171-72; "John omitted this 
statement; a titulus [i.e., such an utterance by Christ] is missing in his 
account of the Passion"). 

Heinrich's model was a manuscript with the usual A version of the 
EN; this may be amply demonstrated, for he translates the Latin text 
(Tischendorf's group D of the Gesta and version A of the Descensus) 
quite faithfully .^^ That model belonged to a large manuscript family, 
attested by numerous Latin witnesses and by four German translations, 
in which the Cura sanitatis Tiberii is appended to the EN and forms 
with it a textual whole.^^ Heinrich's version of the Pilate-Veronica 
legend (w. 3804-4713) is based on version B of the Cura (cf. w. 4530 ff. 
and the Cura, chap. 14), which extends as far as chapter 14. However, 
it also contains passages that can be traced to another text on Pilate, 
the Historia apocrypha of the Legenda aurea^^ They include: the sending 
of Pilate's messenger, Adrianus, and the healing of Vespasian (w. 
3890-4225); the sending of Albanus by Tiberius (Albanus is Tiberius's 
second messenger, for according to the Cura Tiberius had earlier 
dispatched Volusianus; vv. 4226-34); and a short account of the de- 
struction of Jerusalem (w. 4596-713). Finally, several details of Hesler's 
legend of Pilate and Veronica and the destruction of Jerusalem are 
quarried from the Sachsische Weltchronik ("der konige buchen," v. 4718, 
"the book of kings").^ 

Masser is of the opinion that Hesler's direct source was a compila- 
tion from the EN and the canonical gospels; it belonged, according to 
Masser, "to a well documented recension of the Evangelium Nicodemi, 
attested also in German manuscripts; this recension was characterized 
by digressionary additions based on the canonical accounts of the Pass- 
ion and by the inclusion of legendary material from other sources."^'' 
By "a well documented recension . . . attested also in German manu- 
scripts" Masser certainly means the Alemannic prose version E of the 
EN, which he discovered and edited, but which has little in common 

^^ Karl Helm, Untersuchungen Uber Heinrich Heslers Evangelium Nicodemi, 
Habilitationsschrift (Halle a. S.: E. Karras, 1899), 34. 

^ Edited in Dobschiitz, Christusbilder, 157**-203**. 

^' Cf. ibid., 300*-301*, no. 43, where the author identifies a '.'mixture" of 8 
(i.e., Historia apocrypha) and 2 (i.e., Cura sanitatis Tiberii). Helm's investigation of 
the sources, Untersuchungen, 42-49, is somewhat confusing. 

^ Heinrich von Hesler, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, xxx-xxxi; Helm, Unter- 
suchungen, 58-59. 

^'' Masser, "Heinrich von Hesler," 753; cf. idem, Bibel- und Legendenepik, 121. 

High German Literature 299 

with Hesler's work as far as the extensions beyond the Latin text are 
concerned. As long as no Latin manuscript of the compilation postulat- 
ed by Masser has been identified, his assertion, though emphatic, 
remains an unproven hypothesis and a rather improbable one at that. 
There is no reason why one should doubt that an author who was so 
well versed in the four gospels as to compare them (as the digression 
on the words of Jesus on the cross shows [w. 2166-91]) could eilso 
have independently borrowed material from them to expand the EN 
(as did Konrad von Heimesfurt and Gundacker). 

Altogether, Heinrich von Hesler translated the EN more faithfully 
and more completely than either Konrad von Heimesfurt or Gun- 
dacker von Judenburg.^ This is particularly true with respect to the 
account of Jesus' trial, in which Heiruich's version hardly differs in 
content or structure from his apocryphal source. He makes only a few 
minor additions, such as the explanation of the significance of the 
court standards as signs of the imperial judicial authority (w. 835-51) 
or the inclusion of Lazarus in the ranks of those healed by Jesus (w. 

Heinrich shortens and alters parts of the middle section of the EN, 
the questiorung of the witnesses by the High Council. The two epi- 
sodes dealing with the guards of the sepulcher and with Joseph's 
empty prison — which in the EN are independent of each other (chaps. 
12 and 13) — are here linked closely together, and their content is 
substantially changed (w. 2285-449). When questioned by the Jews, 
the guards report that they saw Joseph of Arimathea with Jesus at the 
grave; orUy after the guards' assertion that Joseph is no longer in 
prison do the Jews visit his cell and find it empty. In the episode that 
follows, the guards are bribed by the Jews. Joseph's report of his 
liberation (w. 2588-678) is expanded to include a description of Jesus' 
Ascension, which Joseph claims to have witnessed. 

In his rendering of the Descensus (vv. 2842-3779), Heinrich consid- 
erably erUarges upon his source as he describes Christ's forceful entry 
into hell in much greater detail and with greater drama. The cry 
"Tollite portas" is repeated three times in the poem (in the EN only 
twice). It first resounds during the conversation between the devil and 
his helpers, terrifying the lesser demons until the devil pacifies them 
again (w. 3062-80). The effects of the second cry are described at some 
length: it illuminates hell as bright as day, and cleanses the souls of 
their flecks of sin (w. 3150-273). With the third "Tollite portas," Christ 
himself appears in the underworld. The doors of hell break apart, the 

^ For an overview of the sources of Heinrich von Hesler's Evangelium Nico- 
demi, see Helm, Untersuchungen, 33-42. 


fire of hell is extinguished, a soothing wind blows, and the sufferings 
of the souls cease (vv. 3274-309). 

Heinrich attempts — more emphatically than does his source — ^to 
place the Descent in the context of salvation history extending from the 
Fall to the Redemption. Reflections on the Fall and on salvation are 
central to all three of Heinrich's works. In his introduction to the 
Evangelium Nicodemi, he pursues the question of why God, knowing 
the weakness of human beings, permitted the Fall. Heinrich explains 
that God wanted the Fall in order to make possible, out of his love for 
humankind, the Incarnation of his Son, whereby he joined himself to 
human weakness. Similar thoughts can be found in other extended 
digressions (w. 1670-764, 1929-2165, 3905-4193) .^^ 

However, in his version of the Descent, Heinrich explores soterio- 
logical themes not through digressions but through speeches of partici- 
pating characters, especially of the devil and his helpers. The Harrow- 
ing of Hell is presented as a triumphal climax to a crafty legal dispute 
between God and Satan. According to this legal scenario, the salvation 
of humankind was possible only through deception of the devil. 
Through the Fall, the devil acquired a legal claim to humankind, which 
he could not forfeit unless he violated God's law. The devil committed 
such a violation when he brought about the death of God's son on the 
cross. But in order to make the devil transgress divine law, Christ had 
to conceal his transcendental nature under his human one. The notion 
that the salvation of humankind was the outcome of divine duplicity 
is present in the EN, but Heinrich develops it with greater clarity and 
gives it a wider scope.^ 

Already the first dialogue between Satan and his helpers — still 
closely dependent on EN 20 — reveals that Christ has concealed his 
divinity under the cloak of his human nature (vv. 3011-149). After the 
second "Tollite portas" cry, the devil realizes that he has let himself be 
deceived by the human "brode" of Christ, and that he has lost his 
dominion (vv. 3230-45). His helpers reproach him for not recognizing 
Christ's true nature at the moment of his birth, for then Christ was 
ministered by angels (w. 3246-73). These two speeches — one by the 
devil and the other by his minions — have no counterparts in the EN. 
When Christ forces his way into hell, Satan admits that he has been 
conquered and describes the marvel of the Incarnation, in which the 
divine "stete und des menschen val" ("permanence and human de- 
cline") have joined together (w. 3328-86; cf. EN 22). The following 

'^ For a detailed interpretation of these digressions, see Wiedmer, Sundenfall 
und Erlosung, 25-83. 
*" Ibid., 73-79. 

High German Literature 301 

tirade of the "hellemenie" ("inhabitants of hell") against Satan (w. 
3387-463; cf. EN 23) shows that even in contriving the Fall, the devil 
was only an instrument in God's plan of salvation. Quite inadvertently, 
the devil spoke the truth when he promised Adam that he would be 
like God, for with Christ's Incarnation, God uruted Himself with the 
weakness of human nature. 

Heinrich evokes the Fall repeatedly in his account of the Descent — 
not only in the speeches of the devil and his helpers (cf. w. 3008-9, 
3201, 3220-21, 3316-17)— and always links the Fall to the Redemption 
of humankind through Christ's Passion and Harrowing of Hell. Upon 
arriving in hell, Christ proclaims to the saints that he has gained for 
them on the tree of the cross the eternal life that Adam had lost 
through another tree (w. 3470-89, elaborated on the basis of EN 
24.1.1-5). Seth's earlier report (vv. 2914-3010) is expanded in compari- 
son to EN 19 by inclusion of the statement, taken from the legend of 
the cross, that the tree of the cross had grown from a branch of the tree 
in the Garden of Eden. Seth had received the branch from the Archan- 
gel Michael, and Adam had planted it in the earth (w. 2956-61, 2992- 

The two sons of Simeon conclude their report of the Descent with 
a speech (w. 3696-777) in which they admonish the Jews to do pen- 
ance and to accept baptism (cf. EN 27.2, "paenitentiam agite, et mise- 
reatur uestri"; "do penance and he will show mercy to you"). How- 
ever, the Jews were "so verhartet" ("so obstinate"), the two brothers 
note, that they were unwilling to change their ways and were, there- 
fore, condemned to eternal damnation. Only the Jews living at the end 
of times will convert: "zu des jungesten tages zit, so werdet ir blinden 
sende, die heiligen schrift vorstende, als daz urteil wirt naende, und 
werdet danne gaende zur martre und zur toufe, als der hirz in sime 
loufe zu dem frischen brunnen tut" (w. 3750-57; "Around the Day of 
the Judgement, you blind will see and understand the Holy Bible as 
the Judgement draws nearer; and then you will go to your passion and 
your baptism, just as the stag runs to the fountain of fresh water").*^ 
Similar thoughts cast in a similar idiom (cf. w. 4738-43) occur in 
Heinrich's extensive anti-Jewish digression (w. 4714r-5392) at the end 
of the poem. There, he exhorts German princes to hold the Jews in 
"drucke" (i.e., to suppress them), to curb their profiteering, and to 
force them to accept Christianity. 

The Evangelium Nicodemi of Heinrich von Hesler was much more 
successful than the other two verse adaptations of the EN. Whereas the 
complete texts of the Urstende and the Christi Hort survive each in a 

*' a. Ps. 41:2; Wiedmer, Sudenfall und Erlosung, 12-18. 


single manuscript, Heinrich's poem is extant in four more or less com- 
plete copies, seven fragmentary ones, and a number of excerpts.^ 
These manuscripts were distributed primarily throughout eastern Ger- 
many. This is evident not only from the provenance of manuscript S 
(Schwerin, Wissenschaftliche Allgemeinbibliothek, Bestandszentrum, 
no shelf-mark, saec. XTV), on which Helm's edition is based, but above 
all from the transmission history of the fragments. One of them, the 
East Central German manuscript E, a codex discissus written around 
1300, is of special importance, for it is the oldest textual witness to the 
poem."*^ Furthermore, in several manuscripts, Hesler's Evangelium 
Nicodemi is compiled with the Marienleben composed by Brother Phi- 
lipp for the Teutonic Knights.'*^ 

The wide dissemination of Heinrich's German redaction of the 
apocryphon, suggested by a large number of its manuscripts, is further 
confirmed by its subsequent influence on several late medieval texts, 
including the Weltchronik compiled by Heinrich von Miinchen, a manu- 
script (E^) of the Alemarmic prose version E of the EN, the Weihenste- 
phaner Chronik, and the plays of the Tiroler Passion.^ 

1.4. The three verse redactions of the Evangelium Nicodemi in 
Heinrich von Miinchen's Weltchronik 

Heinrich von Miinchen's Weltchronik is a monumental historical compi- 
lation, written probably in the second quarter of the fourteenth cen- 
tury. It is based on older world chronicles that deal with only parts of 
the Old Testament (such as the chronicle of Rudolf von Ems or the 
Christherre-Chronik) but continues the historical narrative to Heinrich's 
own times with the help of many other works, mostly in German 
verse. Heinrich's Weltchronik is preserved in nineteen manuscripts and 
several fragments, all dating from the second half of the fourteenth to 
the fifteenth century, primarily of Bavarian-Austrian provenance. The 
extant texts vary substantially in both content and length (up to 
100,000 verses);*^ interestingly, some of them preserve, in the sections 

*^ Cf. Heinrich von Hesler, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, i-xix; Achim Masser, 
"Eine unbekannte Handschrift vom Evangelium Nicodemi Heinrichs von Hesler," 
Zeitschriftfur deutsche Philologie 91 (1972): 321-36; Kurt Gartner, "Neue Fragmente 
von Heinrichs von Hesler Evangelium Nicodemi," Zeitschrift fUr deutsches Altertum 
107 (1978): 206-15. 

*^ Gartner, "Neue Fragmente," 207-«. 

** Ibid., 215. Bruder Philipp, Bruder Philipps des Carthausers Marienleben, ed. 
Heinrich Riickert, Bibliothek der gesamten deutschen National-Literatur, vol. 34 
(1853; repr., Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1966). 

*^ See below, sects. 1.4, 2.3, 4, and 5.1. 

*^ For a detailed study of Henrich von Miinchen's Weltchronik, with addi- 

High German Literature 303 

devoted to the New Testament history and based on the Marienleben of 
Brother Philipp, an extensive compilation of the three German verse 
renditions of the EN}^ 

On the basis of the strongly divergent manuscripts of the Weltchro- 
nik, the structure of this rhymed compilation of the vernacular EN texts 
can be reconstructed roughly as follows. Gundacker's Christi Hort 
(beginning at v. 1381) provided the framework into which portior\s of 
the other two redactions were interpolated: from Konrad von Heimes- 
furt's Urstende, almost the entire trial before Pilate and small portions 
of the Descent into Hell; and from Heinrich von Hesler's Evangelium 
Nicodemi, primarily a large part of the Pilate-Veronica legend. The 
events preceding the trial and the initial stages of the proceedings 
before Pilate (the messenger scene, the miracle of the standards) were 
recounted in a collage of short, even minute excerpts from all three 
translations, supplemented with the compiler's own verses. 

This composite of the three German verse adaptations of the apoc- 
ryphon did not originate in the Weltchronik; rather, it goes back to an 
even older compilation, which survives in only two early fourteenth- 
century fragments, both dealing with the legend of Pilate and Veron- 
ica."** Five manuscripts of Heinrich's chronicle have preserved the 
compilation in varying degrees of completeness and in different 
relationships to the other texts constituting the chrorucle, especially to 
Brother Philipp's Marienleben. The compilation is best preserved, albeit 
with large gaps, in two manuscripts, Wolfenbiittel, Herzog August 
BibUothek (HAB) Cod. Guelf. 1.5.2. Aug. fol. (saec. XIV/2), and Gotiia, 
Forschungsbibliothek MS. Chart. A 3 (written in 1398). Fuller but more 
heavily reworked is the text in a group of manuscripts stemming from 
Heinz Sentlinger (Munich, BSB Cgm 7330, dated 1394; Wolfenbiittel, 
HAB Cod. Guelf. 1.16. Aug. fol., dated 1399; Graz, Universitatsbiblio- 
thek MS. 470, written by Johannes von Ezzlingen in 1415 [a copy of the 

tional bibliographic information, see Gisela Komrumpf, "EHe Weltchronik 
Heinrichs von Miinchen. Zu Uberlieferung und Wirkung," in Festschrift fur Ingo 
Reiffenstein zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. Peter K. Stein, Andreas Weiss, and Ceroid 
Hayer, Goppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik, vol. 478 (Goppingen: A. Kiimmerle, 
1988), 493-509. 

■•^ Hoffmann, "Konrad von Heimesfurt," chap. 4.1.2; Paul Gichtel, Die Welt- 
chronik Heinrichs von Miinchen in der Runkelsteiner Handschrift des Heinz Sentlinger, 
Schriftenreihe zur bayerischen Landesgeschichte, vol. 28 (Munich: Beck, 1937), 

** The two fragments (Vienna, ONB MS. Ser. nova 4818; Budapest, Orszagos 
Sz^ch^nyi Konyvtar MS. Germ. 54) have been edited by Edward Schroder, "Frag- 
mente aus Gundacker von Judenburg und Heinrich von Hesler. MitgeteUt von 
Ferdinand MenSk," Zeitschrift fur deutsches Altertum 50 (1908): 386-91, and H. von 
Kleinmayr, "Handschriftliches zur PUatuslegende," Zeitschrift fUr deutsches Alter- 
tum 62 (1925): 241-50. 


Munich manuscript]). Traces of the compilation can also be found in a 
number of additional manuscripts which either omit the events of the 
New Testament completely or else replace them entirely with an 
unaltered text of Philipp's Marienleben; the apocryphal texts surface in 
the chapters dealing with the omens of the destruction of Jerusalem 
(Gundacker) and with Vespasian's siege and conquest of Jerusalem 
(Heinrich von Hesler). 

The New Testament section of Sentlinger's adaption of the Welt- 
chronik, in a version closely akin to Wolfenbiittel, HAB Cod. Guelf. 1.16. 
Aug. fol., served as the basis for an early-fifteenth-century Historienbibel 
(a biblical history in prose), entitled Die Neue £e/' extant in over 
thirty manuscripts and eight early printed editions. Its author rendered 
the Weltchronik into prose, preserving its contents largely intact. 
Through Die Neue Ee, freely revised material from the old verse adap- 
tatior\s of the EN — and especially from Gundacker's — enjoyed wide 
circulation as late as the fifteenth century, side by side with the numer- 
ous prose translations. 

2. Prose translations 

From the begirming of the fourteenth century on, there appeared a 
number of High German prose translations of the EN,^ most of 
which were first made available in a comprehensive edition by Masser 
and Siller. The editors designate individual translations with alphabetic 
sigla from A to I; the first German printed text (referred to below as 
the "printed edition") has not been given any siglum. The text edited 
as version I (445-47) cannot, however, be counted among independent 
translations of the EN because it is an excerpt from the Deutsche Chro- 
nik of Twinger von Konigshofen.^^ Two additional versions should be 
added to those published by Masser and Siller: K in The Hague, 
Koninklijke Bibliotheek MS. 73 E 25, fols. 75r-95v (saec. XV ex.),^^ and 
M in Berlin, Staatsbibliothek Preupischer Kulturbesitz (SBPK) Mgo 387, 

*^ Hans Vollmer, ed.. Die Neue Ee, eine neutestamentliche Historienbibel, Materia- 
lien zur Bibelgeschichte und religiosen Volkskunde des Mittelalters, vol. 4 (Berlin: 
Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1929); cf. Kurt Gartner, "Die Reimvorlage der 
Neuen Ee. Zur Vorgeschichte der neutestamentlichen deutschen Historienbibel," 
Vestigia Bibliae 4 (1982): 12-22. 

^ Albert Viktor Schelb, "Evangelium Nicodemi," in Ruh, Verfasserlexikon, vol. 
2 (1980), 659-63. 

^^ Werner J. Hoffmann, "Die ostmitteldeutsche Ubersetzung des Evangelium 
Nicodemi in der Den Haager Handschrift 73 E 25 (Ubersetzung K), Untersuch- 
ungen und Text," Vestigia Bibliae 9/10 (1987/88, published in 1991): 271 n. 60. 

^^ Edited by Hoffmann, "Die ostmitteldeutsche Ubersetzung." 

High German Literature 305 

fols. 193r-244r (saec. XVI). If one counts the text compiled with version 
E in Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek MS. St. Georgen 83 (saec. 
XV; siglum E^) as a separate translation, there are altogether twelve 
prose translations of the EN dating between the fourteenth and the 
early sixteenth centuries. 

Only four (H, A, E, and F) of these twelve were widely diffused; 
all others, except for the printed edition, survive in unique copies. For 
the most part, the prose translations are straightforward, although the 
degree of adherence to the Latin varies considerably; orUy version E 
takes considerable liberty with the Latin model, for it contains ampli- 
fications derived from the canonical gospels and from legendary 
sources. Two versions (F and K) begin only with the second section of 
the EN (in chaps. 11 and 12, respectively) and omit the trial part 

In general, the German prose translations are based on the standard 
text of EN A. The only exceptions are texts G (a combiriation of Gesta B 
and Descensus A), K (based on version A with interpolations from Gesta 
B and Descensus B), and the printed edition (rendered from the Latin 
version that included Tischendorf's chapter 28, a mixture of A and C). 

The EN is almost always extended with various addenda. Besides 
Pilate's letter, missing only in E and in the printed edition, the Cura 
sanitatis Tiberii is the most frequent appendix; it forms the conclusion 
to the EN in four translations (A, B, C, and K). With respect to the 
Cura, the translations reflect the transmission pattern of the Latin, for 
the Cura seems to have been appended to the Latin EN most frequent- 
ly in the German speaking areas. In a few translations, however, 
different versions of the legend of Pilate and Veronica are added: in F, 
the so-called Historia apocrypha of the Legenda aurea; and in H and E^ 
prose redactioi\s of the German verse trai\slations by Gundacker and 
Heiiu-ich von Hesler, respectively. Other appendices include the 
Somnium Neronis in G and Tischendorf's chapter 28 in the printed 
edition. All these additions, fully integrated with the EN both in the 
Latin and in the vernacular traditioi\s, are of particular importance in 
determining the Latin sources of individual translations. In a few cases 
(in particular, in translations B and G), the addenda make it possible to 
identify precisely the branches of the Latin manuscript tradition which 
underlie the translations. 


2.1. Version H {Klosterneuburger Evangelienwerk) 

The earliest German prose translation of the EN can be found as part 
of the Klosterneuburger Evangelienwerk, written probably around 1330.^ 
The author, an urmamed Austrian from the diocese of Passau, was — 
according to his own testimony — a layman and composed his work 
with the help "of outstanding, religious, and learned people" ("erber- 
ger vnd geistlicher vnd wol gelerter leut"),^ so that "the uneducated 
laymen are . . . improved and made firm in the Christian faith" ("di 
vngelerten leyen ... an cristenlichem gelauben gepessert vnd geuestent 
werden"; fol. 6ra-rb). In addition to the Evangelienwerk, other works 
are ascribed to the same author, including a partial translation of the 
Old Testament (the so-called Schlierbacher Bibel). 

Eighteen manuscripts of the Evangelienwerk, dating from the four- 
teenth and fifteenth centuries, are known to exist. With one exception, 
they all come from the Bavarian- Austrian area; five contain the com- 
plete text, six fragments, and seven excerpts only.^^ One of the manu- 
scripts, Schaffhausen, Stadtbibliothek MS. Generalia 8 (saec. XTV/l), is 
illustrated throughout and includes a series of miniatures depicting the 
contents of the EN^ 

The Klosterneuburger Evangelienwerk is a translation of the gospels 
(extending to the beginning of the Acts of Apostles), harmonized and 
divided into pericopes. Detailed explanatory glosses follow each 
section of the gospels. Incorporated into these glosses or appended to 
them are prose redactions of German verse texts, such as Konrad von 
FuPesbrunnen's Kindheit Jesu or Gundacker's Christi Hort, and transla- 

^^ On the Evangelienwerk, see Gartner, "Klosterneuburger Eveingelienwerk." 
This translation of the EN is edited in Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 

^ Klostemeuburg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 4, fol. 7va-vb 

^^ The transmission of this work is discussed by Gartner, "Klosterneuburger 
Evangelienwerk," 1248-49; Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 85-99; Gisela 
Komrumpf, "Das Klosterneuburger Evangelienwerk des osterreichischen Anon)Tnus. 
Datierung, neue tlberUeferung, Originalfassung," Vestigia Bibliae 9/10 (1987/88, pub- 
lished in 1991): 115-31, who notes four new manuscripts; and Kurt Gartner and 
Bemhard Schnell, "Die Neisser Handschrift des Klosterneuburger Evangelienwerks," 
VesHgia Bibliae 9/10 (1987/88, published in 1991): 155-67. In addition to the seven- 
teen manuscripts identified in these publications, Gartner discovered a fragment on 
a piece of parchment, Graz, Steiermarkisches Landesarchiv, no shelf-mark. The 
entire textual tradition of the Klosterneuburger Evangelienwerk will be discussed in a 
forthcoming dissertation by Wilfried Hebeda (Eichstatt). 

^ Gartner and Schnell, "Die Neisser Handschrift," discuss a fifteenth-century 
copy of this manuscript, also illustrated, of which only some old photographs and 
fragments survive. 

High German Literature 307 

tions of narrative chapters from such Latin texts as the Legenda aurea 
and the Vita beate virginis Marie et Salvatoris rhythmica. 

Already in the prologue the author acknowledges his use of the 
EN as a source supplementing the four gospels and evokes the names 
of both Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea: 

vnd han zu den heiligen ewangelien gesaczt ze glos — das ist 
zu bedeutnusse — etleicher seligen herren schrift, die bei Jhesu 
Cristo warn vnd im din ten vntz in die juden marterten vnd 
totten; das ist besonderlich ein herre der heiset Nichodemus. 
. . . Das ander was der edel herre Joseph von Aromathia.^ 

(and I added to the sacred gospels as a gloss — that is as an 
explanation — the writings of a number of blessed men, who 
were with Jesus and served him, until he was tortured and 
killed by the Jews. I am referring particularly to a man named 
Nicodemus The other was the noble man Joseph of Arima- 

Later, in the section dealing with the trial, he defends the writings of 
Nicodemus by referring to the final sentence of the Gospel of John (Jn. 
21:25): "wand sand Johanns ewangelist selbe geschriben hat. daz vnser 
herre. vil zaichen getan hat. die an seinem puech niht geschriben sint. 
Da von sol des herren Nychodemi schrift niemen f^r lug haben" 
(400.147-50; "for St. John the Evangelist himself wrote that our Lord per- 
formed many signs but that they are not recorded in his book. For this 
reason no one should consider the writings of Nicodemus untrue").^ 
The anonymous writer gives an almost complete translation of the 
EN, based on a manuscript of the Latin A version with Pilate's letter 
(to Tiberius); however, he splits the apocryphal text into several parts 
and then inserts them into his narrative at the thematically appropriate 
points. The part dealing witii the tiial (396.1-408.432; EN 1-9) forms a 
relatively self-contained unit, although punctuated with numerous 
additions. The following chapters of the EN (10-13; 409.433-14.599) are 
heavily fragmented and spread throughout the account of the Passion 
and Resurrection. A continuous, straightforward translation covers 
only chapters 14-27 (415.600-27.1008); there follows a report of the 
Ascension. The whole work concludes with a somewhat rearranged 
prose rendition of the Pilate and Veronica section from Gundacker's 
Christi Hort. 

^^ Klostemeuburg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 4, fol. 7vb. 

^ For the sake of clarity and convenience, all citations from this eind other 
translations of the EN edited in Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, will 
be identified in the body of my essay by page <md, whenever appropriate, line 
numbers, unless otherwise noted. 


The author of the Klostemeuburger Evangelienwerk translates the EN 
into fluent German prose. At times he condenses his Latin model: 
chapters 15, 22, and 23 are substantially shortened. He constantly 
includes explanatory remarks, especially in the account of the trial, 
where the EN closely follows the content of the canonical gospels (for 
example, in the dream of Pilate's wife [399.131-400.137, 400.141-53] 
and in the Barabbas episode [405.306-6.341]). Often these glosses 
contain polemics against the unbelief of the Jews and sometimes 
observations about the differences between the canonical gospels and 
the EN, revealing the author's detailed knowledge of the relevant texts 
as well as his theological competence.^^ 

2.2. Version A (Augsburger Bibelhandschrift) 

Like H, version A has been transmitted along with a translation of the 
Bible, but unlike H, it is a self-standing text.^ Nine manuscripts of 
version A have been identified, including one not listed by Masser and 
Siller, Augsburg, Universitatsbibliothek Cod. m. 1. 2° 9, fols. 319r-40v 
(from Bamberg, Heiliggrab-Kloster; written in 1443; siglum A').^^ By 
far the oldest is Augsburg, Staats- und Stadtbibliothek 2° Cod. 3 
(siglum A^), the so-called Augsburger Bibelhandschrift, whose first part 
(the gospels. Apocalypse, Catholic letters, and a lectionary) was written 
in 1350." The section that contains the EN (fols. 315va-37vb)— but 
which also includes the letters of Paul (fols. 251va-315va) — carmot be 
much later. The language of A^ is East Swabian, and in the fifteenth 
century the manuscript was owned by a resident of Augsburg. The 
remaining manuscripts, almost all of them from the first half of the 
fifteenth century, are — as far as the owners can be determined — from 
the northern Bavarian and East Prankish dialectical areas (Niimberg, 
Coburg, Bamberg). With two exceptions (Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek 
MS. Msc. hist. 155, fols. 23rb-29ra, written in 1473 [siglum A^], and A'), 

^' He remarks (401.193-402.198), for instance, that the answer to Pilate's ques- 
tion "Quid est Veritas?" ("What is truth?"), absent from Jn. 18:38, has been 
recorded and transmitted only by Nicodemus {EN 3.2). 

^ Edited in Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 121-64. For a char- 
acterization of the translation, see ibid., 20-23. 

*^ Eight manuscripts have been described by Masser and Siller, ibid., 52-64. 
For a description of the ninth manuscript, see Karin Schneider, Deutsche Hand- 
schriften der Universitatsbibliothek Augsburg. Die Signaturengruppen Cod. 1.3 und Cod. 
III. 1 (Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz, 1988), 163-66. 

*^ The translation of the canonical gospels in this manuscript has been stud- 
ied by Elke Donalies, Die Augsburger Bibelhandschrift und ihre Uberlieferung. Unter- 
suchung und Text der vier Evangelien (Miinster: Waxmann, 1992). 

High German Literature 309 

the EN appears in these manuscripts in the context of biblical transla- 
tions, usually amid the same texts as in A^ 

The model for A was the Latin vulgate version of the EN witii 
Pilate's letter and the complete B version of the Cura sanitatis TiberiL 
Three among the manuscripts of the Cura studied by Dobschiitz come 
close to the hypothetical source of A,^ namely those numbered 3, 5, 
and 6 (compare the phrase "vnd liez nach sinem tode Claudium" 
[162.189], "and after his death he left Claudius [as his successor]," 
from the German Pilate-Veronica legend with the variants of the Cura 
given by Dobschiitz)." 

Version A adheres to its source very closely, often imitating Latin 
participial constructions or retaining Latin word order. The translator 
clearly treated the EN as a biblical text, which was to be changed as 
little as possible when rendered into the vernacular. 

In manuscripts A^ to A^, translation A has been copied faithfully, 
notwithstanding the remark in A^ "Daz ewangelio Nycodemus gehort 
nicht zu dem text der wybel" ("the gospel of Nicodemus does not 
belong to the text of the Bible"). However, in the two manuscripts with 
non-biblical contexts. A* and A^ it has been subject to sigiuficant revi- 
sions. The changes in the former — ^modernization of vocabulary and 
smoothing of syntax — are restricted to the begiiming and the end of 
the text. The redactor of the latter altered the whole text more thor- 
oughly, systematically eliminating all syntactic Latiiusms and effecting 
fluent, easily comprehensible prose style. 

2.3. Version E 

Version E was also made in the fourteenth century; the oldest of its 
nine manuscripts,^ Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 243, fols. 81ra-85va 
(siglum E*), was written by a Lucem burgher, Johannes Ottenriitti, in 
1383 or shortly thereafter. Manuscript E*, previously in the possession 
of R. P. Wiilcker but not otherwise identified by Masser and Siller,^ 
is now ToruA, Uruwersytet Mikolaja Kopemika, Biblioteka Gtowna Rps 
ll/I (High Alemannic, saec. XV ex.).^'' The E version was disseminated 

" Dobschutz, Christusbilder, 158**. 

" Ibid., 182**.8-11; see also Hoffmann, "EHe ostmitteldeutsche Ubersetzung," 

^ Described by Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 67-75. 

^ Ibid., 75. 

*^ I was referred to this manuscript by Zbigniew Izydorczyk and was eible to 
constilt a microfilm copy of it. The manuscript reached ToruA via the University 
Library of Konigsberg (Kaliningrad). It now contains only the EN (55 leaves), the 
other two texts previously found in it having been lost (Sibylline prophecy and 


primarily in the south and west of the Alemannic speaking area, but it 
also found its way into the East Swabian (Munich, BSB Cgm 523, fols. 
189rb-95va, written in 1471; siglum E^) and even into the Low German 
(Wolfenbiittel, HAB Cod. Guelf. 430 Helmst., fols. 131va-55vb; from 
1456; siglum W) regions. Inscriptions of its medieval owners suggest 
that it was read predominantly in Benedictine and reformed Domini- 
can female convents. 

E is a very loose adaptation of the EN (without Pilate's letter).^ 
Its author not only rendered the EN freely, mostly paraphrasing and 
fleshing it out, but also enlarged it with additions from other sources. 
A passage introducing Nicodemus (249.1-19) serves as a preface. In an 
evening conversation, Jesus converted Nicodemus to his teaching (Jn. 
3:1-5), and for this reason Nicodemus defended Jesus before Pilate, 
assisted at Jesus' burial, and eventually wrote his Evangelium. The 
narrative proper begins with the Passion events according to the 
canonical gospels (249.20-53.129): the decision by the Sanhedrin to kill 
Jesus, the Last Supper, Jesus' arrest, the interrogation before Annas, 
and Judas's suicide. After this, the story of the EN begins, frequently 
augmented with canonical passages, especially in the account of the 
Crucifixion (265.432-68.515). In addition to the gospels, the author of 
E drew also on other works to amplify the EN. For the story of the 
marriage of Mary and Joseph (257.226-41), only alluded to in the EN 
2.4, he used the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew; for 
Enoch's report on the Antichrist (300.1161-302.1202; EN 25), he relied 
on Adso of Montier-en-Der's De ortu et tempore Antichristi. It is particu- 
larly noteworthy that the redactor's sources included also either an 
adaptation of Konrad von Heimesfurt's Urstende, or a verse translation 
of the EN with borrowings from the Urstende. E shows extensive 
borrowings from the Urstende in two places, in the questioning of the 
two sons of Simeon with a long speech by Nicodemus (278.744-80.810) 
and in Seth's detailed description of his journey to paradise (285.884r- 
88.945). Brief quotations from the Urstende are scattered throughout the 
text, especially in the account of the Descent into Hell.^^ 

The textual history of version E is very complicated. Only five of 
its nine manuscripts contain the full text, best preserved in Solothum, 
Zentralbibliothek MS. S 194, fols. lr-58r (saec. XV/2; siglum E^), the 
manuscript on which Masser and Siller based their edition; closely 

a play of the Last Judgement). For a discussion of the nianuscript, see Wiilcker, 
Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 51-54. 

^ Edited in Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 249-305. 

*' The relevant passages are printed in the second apparatus to the critical 
edition of the Urstende; see Konrad von Heimesfurt, Unser vrouiven hinvart. 

High German Literature 311 

related to E^ are Berlin, SBPK MS. Germ, quart. 167 (saec. XV/2; E^), 
and St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 1142 (saec. XV med.; E^). A slightly 
revised redaction of the same text appears in E®, which is in turn close 
to what must have been the model of the Low German text W7° Two 
manuscripts contain only the Descent into Hell: E^ and E^. E'*, the 
oldest manuscript, is particularly important because it has preserved 
many rhymes of its poetic source which are not found in the other 
copies. The East Swabian manuscript E^ contains the Descent into Hell 
in a heavily revised, somewhat foreshortened form.^^ 

Manuscripts E^ and E^ compile the E version with some non- 
biblical texts. The former, Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek MS. St. 
Georgen 83, fols. 58r-101v (saec. XV), partly replaces the loose adapta- 
tion of the EN characteristic of E with an otherwise undocumented 
faithful translation of the Latin.^^ The E text remains nearly intact 
orUy in the section dealing with the Descent; elsewhere it surfaces only 
sporadically. The EN is extended with a version of the legend of Pilate 
and Veronica, consisting of two partially overlapping texts: one (324.1- 
26.79), a substantially abridged prose redaction of the corresponding 
section of Heinrich von Hesler's Evangelium Nicodemi; and the other 
(326.80-29.200), a partial translation of the legend of St. James the Less 
from the Legenda aurea (the healing of Vespasian and the destruction of 
Jerusalem). ^^ 

In E^, Colmar, Bibliotheque de la ville MS. 306 (second decade of 
the fifteenth century, written possibly in Colmar), the EN forms part of 
a monumental compilation of Passion texts.''* This composite Passion 
treatise, entitled in the manuscript "spiegel des lidens cristi" ("mirror 
of Christ's Passion"), comprises primarily a translation of large por- 
tions of Ludolph of Saxony's Vita Christi, amplified with borrowings 
from a number of additional texts. Most important among them — 
besides an otherwise unidentified passion marie — is the German version 

^ Edited in Achim Masser, Dat ewangelium Nicodemi van deme lidende vnses 
heren Ihesu Christi. Zwei mittelniederdeutsche Fassungen, Texte des spaten Mittel- 
alters und der friihen Neuzeit, vol. 29 (Berlin: E. Schmidt, 1978), 61-97. 

^^ Edited in Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 330-37. 

^ For an edition of E^ see ibid., 306-23 (from the very beginning to chap. 17 
of the EN) and 324-29 (legend of Pilate and Veronica); the Descensus portion of E^ 
is given in the apparatus to the edition of E. 

^ Masser and Siller (ibid., 42-43) do not identify the source of the latter. 

''* I was able to examine a microfilm copy of this manuscript. This manuscript 
has been studied from the point of view of art history by Karin Janecke, Der 
spiegel des lidens cristi. Eine oberrheinische Handschrift aus dem Beginn des XV. Jahr- 
hunderts in der Stadtbibliothek zu Colmar (Ms. 306) (Hannover: [Gebr. Janecke], 
1964). Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 74, were aware of the E text in 
this manuscript only from the excerpts printed by Janecke, pp. 162-65. 


E of the pseudo-gospel/^ Except for two passages (249.1-19, 261.337- 
63.390), the compilation incorporates the entire redaction E in two 
large textual units (253.113-65.436, the trial before Pilate; and 272.614- 
305.1253, Joseph's deliverance and the Descent, begirming in chap. 14) 
and fourteen excerpts, mostly very short and always identified with 
the inscription "vsser deme passion Nicodemi" ("from the passion of 
Nicodemus"). The manuscript is decorated with numerous colored line 
drawings and includes a series of illustrations for the EN (among them, 
two miniatures of the miracle of the standards) .^^ 

In the prologue, the compiler of the Spiegel names as one of his 
main sources — in addition to the four evangelists — "nicodemus der do 
ein heimlicher Junger cristi was" ("Nicodemus, who was a secret dis- 
ciple of Christ"). He emphasizes Nicodemus's reliability: "Dar umbe es 
milteklich ze globende ist das es also sige als er das gescriben hat" 
(fol. Iva; "so that one can readily believe that this was exactly the way 
he wrote it"). Later, at several points in the narrative of the trial before 
Pilate, the compiler provides critical comments about the contents of 
the EN: concerning the miracle of the standards, for example, he 
remarks that he has read about it only in the "passion nycodemi" (fol. 
80ra). He makes a similar remark regarding the tale of the marriage of 
Jesus' parents, which he knows from "andren bewerten buchem" (fol. 
81r; "other reliable books"), and notes that never before has he en- 
countered it mentioned in connection with the trial. In another context 
a more critical attitude causes him to omit a passage^ with the fol- 
lowing explanation: "die rede schrib ich hie nit. won ich andertswo nit 
gelesen han dz die rede also vor pylato geschech" (fol. 83ra; "I do not 
write this speech down because I have not read anywhere else that this 
speech was held before Pilate"). 

Masser holds a completely different view of the origin and textual 
history of E from the one sketched above; in particular, he sees the rela- 
tionship between E and Konrad von Heimesfurt's Urstende differentiy.^* 
Starting with the correct observation that E is not a prose redaction of 
the Urstende and that E contains also verses reflecting the contents of the 
EN but not of the Urstende, he concludes that E and the Urstende must 
have had a common source. This alleged source would have been a 

^ I was able to identify the following additional sources: Heinrich Seuse, 
Biichlein der ezvigen Weisheit; Visio Pauli; Hugo Ripelin of Strasbourg, Compendium 
theologicae veritatis; an account of Jean de Mandeville's travels translated by Otto 
von Diemeringen. 

^* Cf. illustration 6 (fol. 78r) in Janecke, Der spiegel des Mens cristi. 

^ Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 261.337-63.390, the defense of 
Jesus by Nicodemus and the testimonies of those who had been healed by Jesus. 

^« Ibid., 24-32. 

High German Literature 313 

poem composed around 1200 and dealing exclusively with the Descent 
into Hell because, according to Masser, only the Descent part of E con- 
tains rhymes. This rhymed antecedent of the Descent in E was supposedly 
rendered into prose. Only E^ and E^ Masser argues, preserve the prose 
version in its original scope; in the other manuscripts, it was augmented 
with an introduction, or, rather, with two independent introductions, 
one in E^ and the other in E^ and related manuscripts. 

Masser's hypothesis of a lost poetic version of the Descent into 
Hell as the basis for E and the Urstende does not withstand careful 
scrutiny. The assertion that the verse passages in E are confined to the 
Harrowing of Hell, that is, to the section transmitted in E* (which 
begins with the second chapter of the Descensus) is verifiably untrue. 
The most striking correspondences with the Urstende occur, in fact, in 
the passages that directly precede the Descent into Hell (278.748- 
80.810), and these are missing in E* (and E^). The assumption that the 
introductory portion of E^ is independent of the normal E text cannot 
be maintained either (cf . the prologue and the narrative of the events 
preceding the trial.) 

It is more likely that at the beginning of the textual tradition of E 
there stood a complete, unified text, a fairly free rendition of the Latin 
EN, amplified at various points with excerpts from other writings, 
including a text in verse. About the form of this poem, whose impor- 
tance as a source of E is clearly overestimated by Masser, one can at 
best make only conjectures because E preserves only its small frag- 
ments. It certainly contained more than the Descent into Hell, and it 
was not simply an adaption of the Urstende. It was probably a verse 
translation of the EN, occasionally inlaid with revised fragments of the 
Urstende. Various circumstances support the priority of the Urstende 
and argue against the Urstende being based on the hypothetical poem; 
not least among them is the fact that the specific Latin source of the 
Urstende has now been identified. It is only from this source, a rare 
Latin version of the EN, that verses 1625-67 of the Urstende (Nicode- 
mus's speech to the two sons of Simeon) — reproduced partly verbatim 
in E (279.785-80.795)— can be derived. 

2.4. Version F 

There are seven known manuscripts of version F: to those described by 
Masser and Siller must be added Wolfenbiittel, HAB Cod. Guelf . 28.4. 
Aug. 2 fol., fols. 306v-17v (written in 1480; Swabian, with Bavarian 
scribal features; siglum F^).^ Translation F was probably made in the 

Ibid., 33-34, 75-83. The Wolfenbiittel manuscript was first identified by 


vicinity of Lake Constance around 1400. It was disseminated primarily 
in the southern and eastern regions of the Alemannic speaking area 
(Engelberg, Zurich, Pfafers, St. Gallen), but also in the western reaches 
of the Bavarian dialect (Scheyem). The oldest manuscript, used by 
Masser and Siller for their edition of this version,^ Munich, BSB Cgm 
640, fols. 61va-67rb (F^), was written around 1425 in the Bavarian 
Benedictine monastery of Scheyem. 

Version F does not contain the complete text of the EN but begins 
only at chapter 11.1 (the miracles at the Crucifixion). It includes, as an 
appendix, the legend of Pilate and Veronica, based on the Historia 
apocrypha of the Legenda aurea^^ which covers the healing of Vespasian 
by Pilate's messenger Adrianus, the Veronica legend (mentioning 
Tiberius's messenger named Albanus), and the death of Pilate and the 
fate of his corpse. The author of F renders the EN quite freely into 
fluent, vibrant German prose. He usually abridges the Latin text and 
omits a few chapters (e.g., chaps. 20-23, the conversations among the 
devils). On one occasion, however, he makes an interesting addition: 
after the testimony of Joseph of Arimathea regarding the two sons of 
Simeon (chap. 17.1), he adds a short report — ^based probably on the 
Legenda aurea — describing how Joseph was imprisoned by the Jews a 
second time and freed by Vespasian and Titus at the time of their 
conquest of Jerusalem (343.146-44.151). 

OrJy four (F\ F^, F^, F^) of the seven manuscripts contain the com- 
plete text of this translation. The other three have only the appendix: 
F^ begins with Pilate's letter, while F^ and F^, in which the text appears 
in combination with the legends of the apostles from the Elsassische 
Legenda aurea^^ open with the legend of Veronica (the second part of 
the appendix). ^^ In both F^ and F^ the text has been substantially 
revised, usually augmented; in one instance (364.140-65.156), the 
content has been enlarged with a report on the destruction of Jerusa- 
lem taken probably from the Legenda aurea' s legend of James the Less. 

Konrad Kunze in his review of Das Evangelium Nicodemi in spatmittelalterlicher 
deutscher Prosa. Texte, edited by Achim Masser and Max Siller, Anzeiger fur 
deutsches Altertum 99 (1988): 196-97. 

^ Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 338-58. 

^' Knape, "Die Historia apocrypha," 146-65. 

^^ Werner Williams-Krapp, Die deutschen und niederlaruiischen Legendare des 
Mittelalters. Studien zu ihrer Uberlieferungs-, Text- und Wirkungsgeschichte, Texte und 
Textgeschichte, vol. 20 (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1986), 40-41, 46. 

*^ F^ has been edited in Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 359-66. 

High German Literature 315 

2.5. Other prose translations 

Whereas the four translations discussed above were widely disseminat- 
ed — ^H in the Bavarian- Austrian area, A in northern Bavaria, E in the 
western and southern Alemannic regions, and F in the south-eastern 
Alemannic area — the other translations survive in single manuscripts. 
Two versions come from western Central Germany (B and C), two 
from eastern Central Germany (K and M), and two from Bavaria (D 
and G). With two exceptions (B of the late fourteenth and M of the 
sixteenth centuries), all manuscripts belong to the fifteenth century. 
Three versions, C, D, and M, are based on the usual Latin vulgate 
version of EN A with Pilate's letter, but C includes also the Cura 
sanitatis Tiberii (incomplete version B, extending only to Dobschutz's 
chap. 14). Translations B and G are derived from the less common 
Latin versions of the EN with characteristic addenda, and K offers a 
particularly interesting textual form of the apocryphon. Because the 
Latin models of the last three versions can be clearly identified, I will 
discuss the three (B, G, K) in greater detail. 

Translation B (Heidelberg, Universitatsbibliothek Cpg 118, fols. 
90v-126v, West Central German, saec. XTV ex.)** is based on EN A 
with Pilate's letter, and includes the rare A version of the Cura sanitatis 
Tiberii. Most characteristic of B is a short text inserted between Pilate's 
letter and the Cura: 

Czu prime do machten sy eren rad weddir en; Czu tercien 
czijd do wart her gegeyfielt; Czu sexten czijd wort her gehan- 
gen an das cruce; Czu none gab her synen geyst vff; An der 
czenden stunde steyk her czu der helle; Completa, so ist alle 
dink voUenbracht; metten, wente czu metten czijd stunt der 
here vff von tode. (196.772-76) 

(In the first hour, they took counsel against him; in the third 
hour, he was scourged; in the sixth hour, he was hanged on 
the cross; in the ninth hour, he rendered up his spirit; in the 
tenth hour, he went down into hell; at compline all things 
were completed; matins [is so called! because at the time of 
matins the Lord arose from the dead.) 

This short description of the Passion according to the canonical hours 
can also be found (again inserted after Pilate's letter) in some Latin 
manuscripts of the EN.^^ The Latin manuscripts with that addition 

" Edited ibid., 173-200. 

*^ Prima hora consilium fecerunt iudei Matutina dicitur quia Dominus mane 

surrexit. Bordeaux, Bibliotheque mimicipale MS. Ill, 275vb-85vb; Eutin, Kreisbib- 


contain, like the German translation B, the less common and more 
ancient version A of the Cura (extending to chap. 14, expl., "defunctus 
est in stratu suo in pace," "he died peacefully in his bed").^ They 
also show characteristic agreements with translation B in various 
passages, such as, for instance, Adam's greeting in chapter 24 (Trier 
manuscript, "Time adam dixit ad dominum Ecce manus que me plas- 
mauerunt"; translation B, "Do sprach Adam czu dem heren: 'sich dyt 
sint dy hende dy mych geschufen' " [192.651-52], "Then Adam spoke 
to the Lord, 'Look, these are the hands that created me' "), which until 
now has been known in precisely the same wording only in Descensus B. 

The model of translation G in Munich, BSB Cgm 7240, fols. 2ra- 
18va (Bavarian; written in 1447),*^ has been identified with the Latin 
text preserved in Salzburg, Erzabtei St. Peter MS. a V 27, fols. lllr-39r 
(last third of the twelfth century). This Latin manuscript has exactly 
the same combination of texts as G: a) chapters 1-16 (Gesta Pilati) of the 
rare, longer B version, with the prologue of Eneas; b) chapters 17-27 
{Descensus Christi ad inferos) and Pilate's letter, based on the vulgate EN 
A; c) the Somnium Neronis through to the sentence introducing the 
omens of the destruction of Jerusalem.** The importance of the Salz- 
burg manuscript consists in the fact that, together with Munich, BSB 
Clm 17181, fols. 103r-12r (saec. XI), which stops at chapter 16.1, they 
are the orUy surviving texts of the Latin EN B from the German- 
speaking territory. A comparison of G with the Salzburg manuscript 
shows that the translator adhered closely to the Latin model and often 
imitated Latin constructions in his German prose style. However, a few 
instances show that he did not use the Salzburg manuscript itself as 
his immediate source but rather a manuscript closely related to it. 

Translation K, The Hague, KonirJdijke Bibliotheek MS. 73 E 25, 
fols. 75r-95v (East Central German; saec. XV ex.),*' provides further 
evidence that the rare Latin EN B was not altogether unknown in the 
German-speaking regions. This German redaction, which opens with 
chapter 12.1 (arrest of Joseph of Arimathea), is based mainly on the 

liothek MS. H, pp. 1-26; Gottingen, Niedersachsische Staats- und Universitatsbib- 
liothek 4° Cod. Ms. Theol. 153, fols. 86ra-97va; Hannover, Niedersachsische 
Landesbibliothek MS. I 247, fols. lr-21r (only the addenda of this version); 
Leipzig, Universitatsbibliothek MS. 819, fols. 92v-lllv; Trier, Stadtbibliothek MS. 
200/1190 8°, fols. 53r-70r. I was able to examine the last-named manuscript. 

^ Dobschiitz, Christusbilder, 181**.9. 

®^ Edited in Masser and SUler, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 365-95. Cf. ibid., 83; 
Williams-Krapp, Die deutschen und niederlandischen Legendare, 220. 

^ Dobschiitz, "A Collection," 12.1-13.9. For an edition of the Visio Neronis 
from the Salzburg manuscript (without the knowledge of Dobschiitz's edition), 
see Speyer, "Neue Pilatus-Apokryphen." 

*' Edited by Hoffmann, "Die ostmitteldeutsche Ubersetzung." 

High German Literature 317 

typical EN A with the complete Cura; however, it contains numerous 
interpolations from EN B, including a few from the first chapter of 
Descensus B {EN 17), No Latin manuscript with the same textual 
configuration is known at present, but it might be worth investigating 
whether any of the extant Latin texts beginning at chapter 12 preserves 
the model of Gesta K. 

Independent of the various manuscript versions discussed above 
is the German printed edition, reissued several times during the first 
half of the sixteenth century.^ Its title announces that the EN supple- 
ments the canorucal gospels and does not contradict them: "Euange- 
lium Nicodemi / auP dem Latein ins Teiitsch gebracht / in welchem vil 
hiipscher puncten / die die andem Euangelisten nit setzen / begriffen 
werden (doch jnen nit wider) fast niitzlich zulesen" ("The gospel of 
Nicodemus translated from Latin into German, in which many good 
points are included which the other evangelists do not include [with- 
out contradicting them], very worthwhile to read")- This edition, like 
the Low German translation L and the Dutch translation D, is a rendi- 
tion of the Latin EN with Tischendorf's chapter 28. According to Thilo, 
the direct source of this printed version was probably the Latin edition 
published by a Leipzig printer, Melchior Lotter, in 1516.'^ 

3. Reception of the Evangelium Nicodemi in poetry 

The motif of Christ's Harrowing of Hell, in the later Middle Ages pop- 
ularized by the EN, has a long history in German literature. References 
to it can be found as early as Otfrid von WeiPenburg's Evangelien- 
huch^ the first major poem in German (ca. 863-871). The speech by 
an angel who announces to the women at the grave that Christ has 
risen contains a brief report of how Christ conquered the devil in the 
underworld, freed the righteous from hell, and led them to his king- 
dom (bk. 5, chap. 4, vv. 49-56). 

The motif of the Harrowing is also employed in several Early 
Middle High German poems, but like Otfrid's work, they present no 
evidence of direct use of the pseudo-gospel. The spoliation of hell in 
the Ezzolied (written in 1064/65; w. 299-310)^^ is based on an interpre- 

^ Described and edited in Masser and Siller, Das Evangelium Nicodemi, 107- 
10, 468-92. 

'' Thilo, Codex apocryphus, dii-cliii. 

^ Otfrid von Weipenburg, Otfrids Evangelienbuch, ed. Oskar Erdmann, 6th ed. 
prepared by Ludwig Wolff, Altdeutsche Textbibliothek, vol. 49 (Tubingen: 
Niemeyer, 1973). 

^ Edited in Albert Waag, Kleinere deutsche Gedichte des XI. und XII. Jahrhun- 


tation of Luke 11:21-22 (the defeat of the devil, the "fortis armatus," 
by someone stronger). The probable source for the treatment of the 
Descent into Hell in other works is pseudo-Augustine's "Sermo 160," 
itself related to the EN.^^ It underlies the Leben Jesu, written by Frau 
Ava before 1127 (w. 1732-83),^^ the Hochzeit, composed around 1160 
(w. 985-1050),^^ and the Anegenge, dated between 1170 and 1180 (w. 

A detailed treatment of the Harrowing of Hell can also be found 
in the Silvester legend of the Kaiserchronik of the mid-twelfth century.'* 
During the disputation between pope Silvester and twelve Jewish 
scholars concerning the truth of the Christian religion, the Jewish 
scholar Jubal directs the conversation to Christ's Descent. He maintains 
that, like any other person, Christ must have been subject to the devil 
during his sojourn in the netherworld (w. 9702-25). Silvester wins the 
argument, as he does many others in the disputation, by citing an Old 
Testament passage. Psalm 23:7-10 ("Tollite portas . . ."), to prove the 
truth of the Harrowing. Then he gives a detailed account of the event 
in two parts corresponding to the two central scenes of the liturgical 
plays of the Harrowing (see below, sect. 5.1): the dialogue between the 
angels and the devils, and the prophets' song of joy. In the former, the 
angels twice demand, with the "Tollite portas," that the gates of hell be 
opened, while the devils ask in amazement who is seeking entry; in the 
latter, the prophets intone the "Advenisti desiderabilis" (w. 9726-807). 

None of the poems antedating the thirteenth century can be 
convincingly shown to have been ir\spired directly by the EN. Thus 
Konrad von Heimesfurt, the author of the early thirteenth-century 
Urstende, is both the first writer to translate the full text of the EN into 
German verse and the first German literary figure who can be shown 
to have been intimately familiar with the apocryphon. The other two 
verse renditions — by Gundacker and Heinrich von Hesler, respectively 
— aside, thematic material from the EN found its way into a number of 

derts, 2d ed., Altdeutsche Textbibliothek, vol. 10 (Halle a. S.: Niemeyer, 1916), 1-16. 

'* PL 39:2059-61. Cf. Edward Schroder, Das Anegenge. Line litterarhistorische 
Untersuchung, Quellen und Forschungen zur Sprach- und Culturgeschichte der 
germcinischen Volker, vol. 44 (Strasbourg: K. J. Triibner, 1881), 54-55. 

^^ Frau Ava, Die Dichtungen der Frau Ava, ed. Friedrich Maurer, Altdeutsche 
Textbibliothek, vol. 66 (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1966). 

^ Waag, Kleinere deutsche Gedichte, 87-123. 

^ Edited by Dietrich Neuschafer, Das Anegenge. Textkritische Studien. Diploma- 
tischer Abdruck. Kritisdte Ausgabe. Anmerkungen zum Text, Medivun JEvum, Philolo- 
gische Studien, vol. 8 (Munich: Fink, 1966). 

'^ Edited in Edward Schroder, Die Kaiserchronik eines Regensburger Geistlichen, 
MGH, Dt. Chron., vol. 1, pt. 1 (1892; repr., Munich: Monumenta Germaniae His- 
torica, 1984). 

High German Literature 319 

poetic texts composed between the end of the thirteenth and the 
fifteenth century. Only rarely, however, do those poems reveal first- 
hand knowledge or use of the Latin apocryphon. 

Two poems, the ErWsung and the Von unsers herren Men, deal only 
with the Harrowing of Hell. A characteristic feature of both is their 
profound similarity to the corresponding scenes in Easter and Passion 
plays. The Erlosung, an epic poem (7022 verses) written at the begin- 
ning of the fourteenth century in the Rhine Prankish dialect, presents 
the whole story of salvation from the Creation, through the Pall and 
the divine decision to save mankind, to the Last Judgement.^ Its 
Descent episode is structured around the two liturgical hymns typical 
of dramatic elaboratior\s of the theme, the "Tollite portas" and the 
"Advenisti desiderabilis" (vv. 5375-586). The first part of that episode, 
culminating in the "Tollite portas," consists of a discussion among the 
devils, in which they reveal their lack of knowledge about the Christ 
who has just died on the cross, followed by a dialogue between Christ, 
seeking admission to hell with the words of Psalm 23, and the ignorant 
devils (w. 5375-461). The second part, concluding with the "Advenisti 
desiderabilis," includes the joyous songs of several patriarchs and 
prophets (w. 5462-577), followed only by a brief account of how 
Christ led the "lobeliche schar" ("praiseworthy group") into paradise 
(w. 5578-86). This condensed, characteristically structured account of 
the Harrowing in the Erlosung betrays strong affinity to the EN only in 
the devils' discussion (report on Jesus' miracles) and in the prophecy 
of Isaiah (reference to light dispelling the darkness of hell). 

The Von unsers herren liden (941 verses)^°° is an unassuming fif- 
teenth-century poem in Swabian dialect, summarizing the events of 
Christ's Passion, sentence, death, burial. Descent into Hell, and Resur- 
rection. The Descent, which occupies a third of the whole work (w. 
200-484), is structured from the following incidents: a discussion 
among the devils, Christ's entrance into hell and the binding of Luci- 
fer, the joyous songs of the patriarchs, and the translation of the 
redeemed into paradise. The most conspicuous structural correspon- 
dence between this poem and the draniatic texts consists in the place- 
ment of the prophets' speeches after the arrival of Christ. It is possible 
that the author used a Passion play as a source for his treatment of the 

^ Edited by Friedrich Maurer, Die Erlosung: Eine geistliche Dichtung des 14. 
Jahrhunderts, Deutsche Literatur, Reihe Geistliche Dichtung des Mittelalters, vol. 
6 (1934; repr., Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1964). 

"" Edited by C. T. Carr, Von unsers herren Men: A Middle High German Poem, 
Edited from the British Museum Manuscript, Additional 24946, Publications of the 
University of Manchester, Germanic Series, vol. 3 (Manchester: University Press, 


Descent, but no such dramatic source has yet been identified. The 
phrasing of the poem shows no relationship to the EN. 

Two other works, the Befreiung der Altvater and Hawich der Kell- 
ner's Stephanslegende, quarry Korurad von Heimesfurt's Urstende for the 
apocryphal material of the EN. The Befreiung der Altvater, extant in 
three manuscripts (two East Central German and one Alemannic) of 
the fifteenth century, is devoted exclusively to the Harrowing of 
Hell.^°^ It shows the same thematic arrangement as the correspond- 
ing section of the Urstende. Particularly interesting in its brief poetic 
narrative of the Descent is Seth's detailed account of his journey to 
paradise (vv. 137-266). The poet based this account on the Urstende, 
whose substance and wording he followed closely (especially in the 
description of the wilderness outside paradise) as well as on the 
opening sections of the rood-tree legend. 

Toward the middle of the fourteenth century, Hawich der Kellner, 
a ministerial of the Domstift St. Stephan in Passau, wrote his Stephans- 
legende (5245 verses).^°^ Early in the poem (up to v. 1272), the ques- 
tioning by the Jewish High Council of the various witnesses (Joseph of 
Arimathea, the eyewitnesses to Christ's Ascension, Carinus and Leu- 
cius) regarding Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension is reported in great 
detail. Hawich's source was not the Latin EN but, besides the Scrip- 
tures, only the Urstende, from which he takes over verbatim entire 
groups of verses. More typically, however, he liberally embellishes the 
scenes borrowed from the Urstende. His main purpose in introducing 
them was to enrich the legendary material concerning Saint Stephen, 
about whose life even the legends say little more than what is known 
from Acts 6:1-8:2. According to Hawich, Stephen took part in the 
questioning of the two sons of Simeon in the temple. It was he who 
told the people waiting outside the temple what Carinus and Leucius 
had reported. This public announcement of the report on the Descent 
marks the begirming of Stephen's preaching and converting, activities 
that aroused anger of the Jewish leaders and ultimately led to his 
being stoned. Stephen refers to the Descent also in the context of his 
proclamations of faith in two later sections of the poem, one adapting 

'"^ Edited by Leopold ZatoCil, "Befreiiing der Altvater," Sbornik Praci Filoso- 
ficke Fakulty BrnSnske University, Rada LiterdrnS VMni 14, no. D 12 (1965): 75-93; cf. 
Werner Williams-Krapp, "Befreiung der Altvater," in Ruh, Verfasserlexikon, vol. 1 
(1978), 667. For a discussion of the textual tradition of the poem and its depen- 
dence on the Urstende, see Hoffmann, "Konrad von Heimesfurt," chap. 4.2.4. 

'"^ Edited by Reginald J. McClean, Havich der Kellner, Sankt Stephans Leben. 
Aus der Berliner Handschrift, Deutsche Texte des Mittelalters, vol. 35 (Berlin: Weid- 
mannsche Buchhandlung, 1930); cf. Karl-Emst Geith, "Hawich der Kellner," in 
Ruh Verfasserlexikon, vol. 3 (1981), 561-63. Regarding Hawich's dependence on the 
Urstende, see Hoffmann, "Konrad von Heimesfurt," chap. 4.2.2. 

High German Literature 321 

the legend of Pilate and Veronica (w. 1273 ff., probably a free adapta- 
tion of the Cura sanitatis Tiberii) and the other relating a disputation 
between Stephen and some heathen scholars (w. 2269 ff.). 

The treatment of the pseudo-Nicodemean matter in the Passion- 
al,^^ written at the end of the thirteenth century, is based wholly on 
the Legenda aurea. The chapter on the Resurrection (89.83-102.51) is 
found in the first book, a combination of a life of Jesus with a life of 
Mary, and contains accounts of the imprisonment and deliverance of 
Joseph of Arimathea (95.76-96.33) and of the Descent into Hell (97.36- 
102.51). In contrast to the Legenda aurea, there is no clear reference to 
the EN in either account, only a vague allusion in the Joseph-episode 
to tradition: "ovch haben die meistere vns kimt getan" (95.76; "the 
scholars also made it known to us"). The poet merged the two descrip- 
tions of the Descent that follow each other in the Legenda aurea (pseu- 
do-Augustine's "Sermo 160" and the EN) into a single report by insert- 
ing the two sections of the sermon into the body of the EN-based 

Of some importance for the dissemination of the apocryphal 
substance of the EN is the Vita beate virginis Marie et Salvatoris rhythmi- 
ca,^^ composed in the first half of the thirteenth century. Three trans- 
latioi\s of this Latin poem into Middle High German verse survive: one 
by Walther von Rheinau (Alemannic, second half of the thirteenth 
century), another by the Swiss poet Wemher (Alemarmic, before 1382), 
and the third by Brother Philipp (beginning of the fourteenth century). 
Because the focus of the Vita rhythmica is on the life of Mary, its 
borrowings from the EN are of secondary importance. Nevertheless, on 
six occasions the author identifies the EN as his source with an explicit 
reference to "Ev. Nic": 1) w. 5114-21, different reactions to the erect- 
ing of the cross; 2) w. 5838-45, the songs of the patriarchs in praise of 
Christ; 3) w. 5848-67, the miracle of the standards; 4) w. 6042-61, the 
Harrowing of Hell; 5) w. 6142^5, the appearance of Jesus to Joseph of 
Arimathea in prison; and 6) w. 6426-29, the introduction of the patri- 
archs into the heavenly paradise. The seventh borrowing is not ac- 
knowledged: w. 6126-29, the mention of Pilate's letter to the Roman 
caesar. The account of the miracle of the standards, included within a 

^^ Edited by K. A. Hahn, Das Alte Passional (Frankfurt a. M.: H. L. Bronner, 

^°* Edited by Adolf Vogtlin, Vita beate virginis Marie et Salvatoris rhythmica, 
Bibliothek des Litterarischen Vereins, vol. 180 (Tiibingen: Gedruckt fiir den Litte- 
rarischen Verein in Stuttgart, 1888). One should also consult Max Papke, Das 
Marienleben des Schxveizers Wemher. Mit Nachtragen zu Vogtlins Ausgabe der Vita 
Marie rhythmica. Palaestra, vol. 81 (Berlin: Mayer & Miiller, 1913), who prints 
glosses and source references missing from Vogtlin's edition. 


list of the miracles that occurred during the Passion of Jesus, is rather 
unusual. According to the Vita, it was a Jewish custom on high holi- 
days to carry twelve banners in a festive procession around the temple; 
as the procession passed the scourged Jesus, the barmers bowed, as if 
they wished to worship him. 

All passages associated with the EN were incorporated, essentially 
unaltered, by Walther von Rheinau and the Swiss poet Wemher in 
their Marienleben; Wernher slightly extends only the section dealing 
with Joseph of Arimathea.^°^ Philipp, however, whose poem is a very 
free adaptation of the Vita, includes only the two passages concerned 
with the Harrowing of Hell (w. 7956-61) and with Joseph of Arima- 
thea (w. 8028-51), respectively. He considerably reduces the former 
but, like Wernher, amplifies the latter, expanding the Vita's brief 
reference to Joseph's Christophany by retelling how Joseph was freed 
and brought back to his house and how, on the following day, the 
Jews found the prison empty. 

4. Reception of the Evangelium Nicodemi in prose texts 

The EN was particularly popular with authors of prose narratives on 
the life of Jesus, and especially on his Passion. Two such narratives 
have already been discussed: the Neue Ee, which drew its EN material 
from the three German verse adaptations, and the Spiegel des lidens 
Cristi, indebted to the Alemarmic prose redaction E. Of the other texts 
making extensive use of the EN, only the Passion tract Do der minnenk- 
lich got has been edited and carefully studied.^"^ It was written 
around 1400 in the Alemannic dialect (probably in the vicinity of 
Strasbourg) and preserved in nine manuscripts (two have now been 
lost) from the early fifteenth to the mid-sixteenth century;^°^ the ex- 
tant copies differ from one another considerably both in wording and 
in substance. This long tract, begirming with the events of the eve of 
Palm Sunday, gives a detailed and — ^whenever possible — complete 
account of the Passion events through to Pentecost, augmented with 

'°^ Edited by Max Papke, Das Marienleben des Schzveizers Wemher aus der 
Heidelberger Handschrift, Deutsche Texte des Mittelalters, vol. 27 (Berlin: Weid- 
mannsche Buchhandlung, 1920). 

^°^ Albert Viktor Schelb, "Die Handschriftengruppe Do der minnenldich got. 
Ein Beitrag zur spatmittelalterlichen PassionsUteratur" (Ph.D. diss., Freiburg, 
1972); idem, "Passionstraktat Do der minnenldich got," in Ruh, Verfasserlexikon, vol. 
7 (1989), 353-55. 

^"'^ For a hitherto unknown manuscript of this text, see Schneider, Deutsche 
Handschriften, 282. 

High German Literature 323 

teachings on the Redemption and various edifying embellishments. It 
contains passages of largely unabridged translation from the EN as 
well as shorter fragments adapted freely from the apocryphon.^°* The 
following portions of the EN have been inserted into the tract in the 
form of translations: almost the entire trial before Pilate {EN 1.1-3.2, 
corresponding to 250.30-57.18; 4.1-2, to 261.19-29; 4.5-6.2, 7, and 8, 
to 272.15-74.24);^°^ the Jews' explanation of the eclipse of the sun at 
Jesus' death (11.2, corresponding to 328.25-29.3); and the operung of 
Joseph's prison cell and the report of the guards of the sepulcher 
concerning the Resurrection (12.2-13.3, corresponding to 352.23-53.33). 
They have been transmitted by only one group of manuscripts; most 
probably, they did not belong to the original text and should be 
viewed as later interpolations. What all manuscripts have in common 
are the passages in which the EN is freely adapted: a brief mention of 
Jesus' defenders at his trial (272.9-14; 275.1-5, with a reference to the 
source, "Es stot och geschriben in Nicodemus ewangelio," "It is also 
written in the gospel of Nicodemus"); the report of Joseph's arrest and 
his release by Jesus, expanded with an announcement of the death of 
Nicodemus (338.10-39.5), taken from a legend of the discovery of 
Saint Stephen; and the Harrowing of Hell, with a relatively short 
description of how the soul of Jesus, accompanied by many angels, 
freed the patriarchs from limbo (325.13-28.6). Both in the short account 
of the defenders of Jesus and in the description of the Descent, one can 
find exact correspondences with the Middle Dutch Passie edited by 

Joharmes von Zazenhausen (a Franciscan of Mainz; after 1362 suf- 
fragan bishop in Trier; d. 1380) uses the EN only sparingly in his story 
of the Passion, Erit vita quasi pendens ante te (Deut. 28:66),^^^ com- 
posed between 1362 and 1371, even though he mentions the EN 

"* For a discussion of the passages taken from the EN, see Schelb, "Die 
Handschriftengruppe," 434-38. Schelb does not consider the possibility that the 
translated portions could be later interpolations. 

'"^ Page and line references are to Schelb, "Die Handschriftengruppe." 

"° Luc Indestege, ed.. Die Passie Jhesu naar een zestiende-eeuws handschrift in het 
Provinciaal Museum te Hasselt (Maaseik: H. van der Donck, 1948), 73-74. A com- 
parison of the passages on the defenders of Jesus in both passion tracts (Inde- 
stege, Die Passie, 41.7-12; Schelb, "Die Handschriftengruppe," 272.9-75.5) shows 
that, in Schelb's passion, only the portions freely adapted from the EN (272.9-14, 
274.1-5) correspond to Indestege's tract and that only those must have belonged 
to the original text; the sections more rigorously translated from the EN were 
probably added by a later editor. 

"' Cf. Kurt Ruh, "Johaimes von Zazenhausen," in Ruh, Verfdsserlexikon, vol. 
4 (1983), 827-30. Livarius Oliger, "Die deutsche Passion des Johannes von Zazen- 
hausen O. F. M. Weihbischofs von Trier (t c. 1380)," Franziskanische Studien 15 
(1928): 245-48, reprints the Latin prologue to this work. 


directly after the gospels in his list of sources. He places special em- 
phasis on the interpretation of the "sensus historicus" and draws on a 
large number of theologians, Nicolaus of Lyra being the most recent, 
to erJiance this line of exegesis. It is to clarify the "sensus historicus" 
that several passages from the EN are quoted. In cormection with 
Pilate's question "Quid est Veritas" (Jn. 18:38), the author first discuss- 
es why the canonical gospel does not give Jesus' answer, and then 
reports the answer as recorded in the EN (3.2; Trier, Stadtbibliothek 
MS. 818/1715, fol. 23r). The discussion of the reports that many of the 
departed rose with Jesus from the dead (Mt. 27:52-53) alludes to the 
two sons of Simeon (fol. 50v); it does not include their account of the 
Descent but focuses on the question whether those resurrected with 
Jesus also ascended with him into heaven, or whether they died again. 
An extremely brief treatment of Christ's Descent, inserted directly after 
the account of his burial (60v), indicates that, in spite of its incidental 
contributions, the EN was of secondary importance to the author of 
this treatise. 

Two other Passion texts indebted to the EN in varying degrees can 
be mentioned here. Claus Schulmeister's treatise on the Passion sur- 
vives in the holograph manuscript of 1396 (Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek 
MS. 339). Claus, a city clerk in Lucerne between 1378 and 1402, was 
strongly influenced by German mysticism; in his work, he relied 
primarily on Ludolph of Saxony's Vita Jesu Christi but drew on other 
sources as well, including the EN}^^ Another treatise of Swiss prove- 
nance, the life of Jesus entitled Induimini dominum (Rom. 13:14; Engel- 
berg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 244, saec. XV in.), is a gospel harmony that 
makes ample use of glosses from church fathers and occasionally from 
the £N."^ 

Since the extensive field of late medieval German Passion litera- 
ture still remaii\s largely unexplored, one may surmise that, in addi- 
tion to the four texts indicated above, there were many others which 
quoted, adapted, or alluded to the EN. A thorough analytical descrip- 
tion of manuscript texts of the already known and studied Passion 
tracts could furrush further proof of the EN's pervasive ir\fluence. Kurt 
Ruh's dissertation on the large textual tradition of Heinrich von St. 
Gallen's tract Extendit manum (Gen. 22:10; approximately 180 manu- 
scripts) may serve as an example. While describing primarily the 

"^ Kurt Ruh, "Der Passionstraktat des Heinrich von St. Gallen," 2 vols. 
(Ph.D. diss., Zurich, 1940), 2:27-29; idem, Bonaventura deutsch. Ein Beitrag zur 
deutschen Franziskaner-Mystik und -Scholastik, Bibliotheca Germanica, vol. 7 (Bern: 
Francke, 1956), 271 n. 2. 

'" Kurt Ruh, "Leben Jesu Induimini dominum," in Ruh, Verfasserlexikon, vol. 
5 (1985), 635-36. 

High German Literature 325 

manuscripts preserved in Swiss libraries, Ruh discovered that two of 
them— Ziirich, Zentralbibliothek MS. B 288, fols. 23r-24v, 32r-33v, and 
45r-50r (written in 1498), and Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 284,' pp. 
409-14 (saec. XVI) — excerpted and incorporated into Heinrich's work 
fragments of vernacular adaptations of the £N."^ 

Narrative elements of the EN were also occasionally absorbed by 
late medieval German chrorucles. In the Strafiburger Weltchronik of 
Jacob Twinger von Konigshofen, dated between 1380 and 1414, the 
material adapted from the EN occurs at the begirming of the third 
chapter ("von alien bebsten," "concerning all the popes"), inserted 
between a brief listing of the most important stations in the life of 
Jesus (with a polemic against the apooyphal text "genant 'unsers 
herren kintheit,' " "titled 'our Lord's childhood,' " probably to be 
identified with Philipp's Marienleben) and the begiiming of a list of the 
popes.^^^ Twinger's inmiediate source was, at his own admission, 
Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum historiale: "Vincencius schribet in sime 
buche genant speculum historiale, eine hiibesche rede von der ur- 
stende, die etwas fromede ist" (501.11-13; "in his book Speculum histo- 
riale, Vincencius writes a fine account of the Resurrection, which is 
rather strange"). Although the Speculum was one of his most important 
sources, Twinger mentions it explicitly only once more."^ Because 
the story of the Resurrection from the EN was the only narrative inter- 
polation into the events of the New Testament, otherwise presented 
through short, chrorucle-like notes, he probably felt obliged to ensure 
its credibility through an explicit reference to his source; after all, he 
himself refused to give credence to the narratives of the childhood of 
Jesus (see above). Begirming with Jesus' burial and Joseph's incarcera- 
tion, Twinger gives (501.15-6.17) a short resume of Vincent's corre- 
sponding chapters (bk. 7, chaps. 48 and 56-63; EN 11-26). Most note- 
worthy in his rendition of Vincent's account are the changes he makes 
in the chronology of events. The report of the Descent into Hell comes 
directly after the burial of Jesus, and the liberation of Joseph is placed 
right after the Resurrection. The interrogation of several witnesses by 

"* Ruh, "Der Passionstraktat," l:xcv-xcviii. The sources of the excerpts in tiie 
Zurich manuscript, not identified by Ruh, include the Neue Ee (fols. 23-24, 32-33) 
and the Deutsche Chronik of Jakob Twinger von Konigshofen (fols. 45r-50r). 

"^ Jacob Twinger von Konigshofen, Strafiburger Weltchronik, in Die Chroniken 
der oberrheinischen Stddte. Strafiburg, vol. 2, Die Chroniken der deutschen Stadte 
vom 14. bis ins 16. Jahrhundert, vol. 9 (1871; repr., Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & 
Ruprecht, 1%1). 

"* Rudolf Weigand, "Elements of the Speculum historiale in German Universal 
Chronicles of the Late Middle Ages," in Vincent de Beauvais: Intentions et receptions 
d'une ceuvre encyclopedique au nwyen Age, ed. Monique Paulmier-Foucart, Serge 
Lusignan, and Alain Nadeau (Saint-Laurent, Quebec: Bellarmin, 1990), 401. 


the Sanhedrin, which thematically belongs after the Ascension but 
whose chronology is not specified in the EN, is moved to Easter: the 
questioning of Phynees, Adda, and Aggeus takes place "am ostertage 
vor ymbePe" ("on Easter Sunday before the meal"), and the question- 
ing of Joseph of Arimathea and the two sons of Simeon "noch 
ymbePe" ("after the meal"). 

Like Twinger's Weltchronik, the Weihenstqjhaner Chronik (Bavarian, 
written after 1433) offers the basic story of the EN, beginning with the 
arrest of Joseph of Arimathea."'' The main source of this chronicle of 
emperors and popes was the Flores temporum; an important secondary 
source, particularly for the extended account of Charlemagne, was the 
rhymed German Weltchronik by Jansen Enikel. For the apocrjq^hal 
material (90.20-93.23), the author of the Weihenstephaner Chronik turned 
to Heinrich von Hesler's German version of the EN; he used it also for 
the legend of Pilate and Veronica (93.24-96.28), a fact apparently over- 
looked by earlier scholars."^ The Chronik only briefly summarizes the 
text of Heinrich's poem; consequently, its dependence on Hesler is 
apparent less from the coincidence in wording than from the reproduc- 
tion of Hesler's idiosyncratic deviations from his Latin sources. These 
deviations include the curious linking of the report of the soldiers 
guarding the sepulcher with the operung of Joseph's empty prison cell 
(91.16 ff., the Jews first learn about Joseph's deliverance from the 
guards); the concluding words of the two sons of Simeon in their 
account of the Harrowing of Hell (93.3-9), exhorting the Jews and 
alluding to their conversion at the end of times; and the appearance of 
Lazarus as a witness on Jesus' behalf in the legend of Pilate and 
Veronica (95.31-32). 

From the twelfth century on, Christ's Descent into Hell was fre- 
quently used as a theme in Easter sermons."^ Homiletic accounts of 
the episode are usually short and based, as in early Middle High Ger- 
man verse compositions, mainly on the "Advenisti desiderabilis" anti- 

"^ Edited by Sigrid Kramer, Die sogenannte Weihenstephaner Chronik. Text und 
Untersuchung, Miindiener Beitrage zur Mediavistik und Renaisscince-Forschung, 
vol. 9 (Munich: Arbeo-Gesellschaft, 1972). 

"^ Kramer (ibid., 260-62) establishes the dependence of the Chronik on Hein- 
rich von Hesler only with regard to the EN proper, not to the legend of Pilate 
and Veronica that follows. Altikough the section from the EN is preserved in only 
one of the three manuscripts of the chronicle, it certainly belonged to the original 
text of the Chronik, for all three also contain the legend of Pilate amd Veronica. 
The excerpts from the EN are deliberately omitted in one manuscript and are ab- 
sent (together with part of the legend) from another due to the loss of some folios. 

"^ See Carl v. Kraus, "Vom Rechte" und "die Hochzeit." Eine literar-historische 
Untersuchung, Sitzvmgsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in 
Wien, PhU.-hist. Kl., vol. 123, no. 4 (1891), 125. 

High German Literature 327 

phon (the greeting of Christ by the patriarchs) and on the pseudo- 
Augustinian "Sermo 160" (the speeches of the devils at the arrival of 
Christ). The Kuppitsch'sche Predigtsammlung (twelfth century. Upper 
German)^^° and the St. Pauler Predigten (first half of the thirteenth 
century, Bavarian)^^^ contain good examples of such sermons. 

A detailed retelling of the Descent into Hell can be found in the 
Easter sermon of the "Schwarzwalder Prediger" ("Preacher of 
Schwarzwald"),^^ active around the turn of the fourteenth century. 
It is introduced with a translation of Mark 16:1-7, a statement of the 
theme — ^how often Christ appeared to his disciples after his Resurrec- 
tion — and a quotation from Peter of Riga's Aurora, which links the five 
wounds of Christ to his five appearances at Easter. Then it translates 
and augments those parts of the Legenda aurea which deal with Christ's 
appearances and the Harrowing of Hell. The "Preacher of Schwarz- 
wald" quotes the speeches from his sources in Latin before translating 
them into German. As in the Legenda aurea, the account of the Descent 
consists of two parts: the excerpt from the sermon of pseudo-Augus- 
tine and the summary of the Descensus. Unlike the Legenda aurea, the 
Preacher ascribes not only the first but also the second part to Augus- 
tine: "Nu scribet uns S. Augustinus me von der urstendi unsers herren. 
un sprichet . . ." ("Now St. Augustine writes us more about the Resur- 
rection of our Lord and says . . .").^^ 

Also through the Easter section in the Legenda aurea, the EN 
reached a number of German prose legendaries.^^^ The most widely 
disseminated among the Legenda's High German translations, albeit 
almost exclusively in southwestern Germany, was the Elsdssische 
Legenda aurea,^^ made in Strasbourg ca. 1350. Its winter part, which 

'^ Edited in Franz Josef Mone, "Altteutsche Predigten," Anzeiger fiir Kunde 
der teutschen Vorzeit 8 (1839): 525-27; cf. Dagmar Ladisch-Grube, "Kuppitsch'sche 
PredigtsamnUung," in Ruh, Verfasserlexikon, vol. 5 (1985), 452-54. 

'^^ Edited by Adalbert Jeitteles, Altdeutsche Predigten aus dem Benedictinerstifte 
St. Paul in Kdmten, Altdeutsche Handschriften aus Oesterreich, vol. 1 (Innsbruck: 
Wagner'sche Universitats-Buchhandlung, 1878), 75-78; new ed. and bibliography 
in Norman E. Whisnant, "St. Pauler Predigten," in Ruh, Verfasserlexikon, vol. 7 
(1989), 366-69. 

'^ Edited in Franz Karl Grieshaber, Deutsche Predigten des XIII. Jahrhunderts 
(1844; repr., Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1978), 137-50. 

^" Ibid., 145; cf. 149-50; 

^^* For a discussion of German translations of the Legenda aurea, see Konrad 
Kvmze, "Jacobus a Voragine," in Ruh, Verfasserlexikon, vol. 4 (1983), 460-63; for 
the transmission of the Legenda's Easter section, see WUliams-Krapp, Die deutschen 
und niederlandischen Legendare, 446. 

^" Ulla WiUiams and Werner WiUiams-Krapp, eds.. Die Elsdssische Legenda 
aurea, vol. 1, Das Normalcorpus, Texte und Textgeschichte, vol. 3 (Tubingen: 
Niemeyer, 1980), 268.35-69.2 (the story of Joseph of Arimathea), and 269.7-72.17 
(Christ's Descent into Hell). 


includes the texts for Easter, survives in fifteen manuscripts.^^^ More- 
over, five other translatior\s of the Legenda (two in the East Central 
German and three in the Upper German dialects, all from the fifteenth 
century) preserve the same material, but none of them enjoyed wide 
circulation, each surviving in only one or two manuscripts. 

The most popular German legendary was Der Heiligen Leben, 
written by a Domirucan in Nuremberg around 1400 and extant in 
approximately two hundred manuscripts and forty-two early printed 
editions.^^^ It is based on a variety of German and Latin sources 
(such as the Passional, the Marterbuch, and the Legenda aurea), but it is 
a purely hagiographical collection and does not contain any texts for 
Easter or other high festivals. Only a few of its manuscripts and all 
eight Low German printed editions include texts for such festivals 
(including Easter). 

5. The Evangeliutn Nicodemi in liturgical drama 

5.1. The Harrowing of Hell 

A representation of Christ's Descent into Hell forms part of numerous 
medieval plays (Passion, Easter, and Corpus Christi plays).^^ It is 
usually placed after the Resurrection, and only rarely — in a dogmatic- 
ally more correct fashion — before}^^ Common to all the plays is the 
use of specific Latin liturgical hymns: Psalm 23:7-10 ("Tollite portas 
principes vestras . . . Quis est iste rex gloriae . . ."), the Canticum trium- 
phale ("Cum rex gloriae Christus . . . Advenisti desiderabilis . . .") from 
the liturgy Elevatio crucis celebrated on Easter morning, and the anti- 
phon "Venite benedicti patris mei," based on Matthew 25:34. These 
hyiims, according to Thoran,^^ form the "Latin scaffolding" of the 

^^ Ibid., xxx-xxxi; Williams-Krapp, Die deutschen und niederlandischen Legen- 
dare, 35-52. 

^^^ Cf. Williams-Krapp, Die deutschen und niederlandischen Legendare, 188-345. 

^^ Cf. Rolf Bergmarm, Katalog der deutschsprachigen geistlichen Spiele und 
Marienklagen des Mittelalters (Munidi: Beck, 1986), index, 530. 

^^ Cf. Zbigniew Izydorczyk, "The Inversion of Paschal Events in the Old 
English Descent into Hell," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 91 (1990): 441. The sources 
of Sie descent episode in German plays have been studied by Georges Duriez, Les 
Apocryphes dans le drame religieux en Allemagne au moyen Age, M^moires et travaux 
publics par des professeurs des Facult^s cathoUques de LUle, vol. 10 (LiUe: R. 
Giard, 1914), 44-68; Karl W. Ch. Schmidt, Die Darstellung von Christi Hollenfahrt in 
den deutschen und den ihnen verwandten Spielen des Mittelalters (Marburg: H. Bauer, 
1915), 16-66; and Barbara Thoran, Studien zu den osterlichen Spielen des deutschen 
Mittelalters (Ein Beitrag zur Kldrung ihrer Abhdngigkeit voneinander), 2d ed., Goppin- 
ger Arbeiten zur Germanistik, vol. 199 (Goppingen: A. Kiimmerle, 1976), 131-232. 

^* Thoran, Studien, 132-202. 

High German Literature 329 

episode, and already provide the main incidents of the Descent: the 
command to the devil and his helpers to open the gates; the joy of the 
patriarchs at Christ's arrival; and Christ's greeting of the patriarchs. 
The influence of the EN on this basic dramatic structure of the Descent 
is only indirect: the Canticum triumphale is modeled on a sermon by 
pseudo- Augustine, which is in turn based on the EN}^^ 

The basic dramatic structure of the Descent inherent in the Latin 
hymns is developed to a greater or lesser extent in almost all the plays 
by means of additional scenes representing the prophets' joyous antici- 
pation, the discussions among the devils, the securing of the gates of 
hell, the greetings exchanged between Christ and the prophets, the 
binding of Lucifer, the condemnation of the wicked, or the translation 
of the prophets into paradise."^ Other critics maintain that the au- 
thors of these plays borrowed the additional scenes from the EN}^ 
However, a comparison with the EN reveals that, except for a few 
plays discussed below, the plays of the Harrowing of Hell exhibit no 
textual similarity to the apocryphon. In fact, the differences in the 
manner of presentation between the plays and the EN are conspicuous: 
the prophets named in the plays do not coincide with those in the EN, 
the dramatic lists of prophets include non-prophetic figures, and the 
prophecies do not correspond to those rehearsed in the EN. The EN 
provides only the underlying "idea"^^ of the patriarchs' rejoicing at 
Christ's arrival in their dim abode. One cannot speak here of the use, 
in the fuD sense of the term, of the EN as a textual source. 

The frequently expressed opinion^^ that these plays are based 
on the Latin EN B must definitely be rejected. Current scholarship 
regarding the Latin textual tradition of the EN suggests that Descensus 
B was little known in German-speaking areas.^^ One can assume 
that the scenes allegedly taken from Descensus B, such as the binding 
of Lucifer or the condemnation of the wicked, originated in the widely 
disseminated popular conceptions of the Harrowing, and one need not 
necessarily derive them from a specific textual source. 

"' Ibid., 133 n. 88. 

^^ Ibid., 202-28. 

'" Duriez, Les Apocryphes, 44-68; Schmidt, "Die Darstellung," 55-58; Thoran, 
Studien, 202-28. 

^** Achim Masser, "Das Evangelium Nicodemi und das mittelalterliche 
Spiel," Zeitschrift fur deutsche Philologie 107, no. 1 (1988): 54-55. 

^^ Schmidt, "Die Darstellimg," 57-58; Ehiriez, Les Apocryphes, 56, 61; Thoran, 
Studien, 159-60, 221, 224, 227; Masser, "Das Evangelium Nicodemi und das mit- 
telalterliche Spiel," 57. 

'^ Hoffmann, "Die ostmitteldeutsche tJbersetzung," 227; Zbigniew Izydor- 
czyk, "The Unfamiliar Evangelium Nicodemi," Manuscripta 33 (1989): 181-82. 


Only three plays, or groups of plays, occasionally borrowed the 
wording or the structure of the EN in their depictions of the Harrow- 
ing and can be properly said to have used the EN as a textual source: 
the Tiroler Passion (represented by a whole group of plays), the Reden- 
tiner Osterspiel, and the Munchner Osterspiel. All three share a common 
feature derived from the EN: the actual Harrowing is followed by a 
scene in paradise with Enoch, Elijah, and the Good Thief. Besides these 
three, only the Alsfelder Passionsspiel^^^ and the Augsburger Passions- 
spiel^^ show occasional similarity in wording to the EN. 

In the Tiroler Passion}^'^ the Harrowing of Hell (w. 3166-455) 
begins — after the introductory "Cum rex gloriae" and the "Tollite 
portas" — with a conversation between Lucifer and five devils (w. 
3168-241). This is followed by prophecies of the patriarchs (Adam, 
Isaiah, Simeon, John the Baptist, Seth, and David) concerning the 
coming of the Savior (w. 3242-309). Both the infernal conversation and 
the prophecies are closely modeled on the EN (20-21.1 and 18-19). The 
subsequent scenes, Christ's forceful entry into hell and the greeting by 
the patriarchs (vv. 3310-93), do not show any close relationship to the 
EN. However, the conclusion of the Harrowing, the entry of the 
prophets into paradise and their encounter with Enoch, Elijah, and the 
Good Thief (w. 3394-403; 3414-55), returns to the apocryphon. The 
author of the Tiroler Passion used not only the Latin EN, from which he 
lifted, in addition to the Descent, the incidents involving Joseph of 
Arimathea (see below, sect. 5.3), but also the rhymed Evangelium 
Nicodemi of Heinrich von Hesler, from which he copied almost verba- 
tim parts of the prophets' speeches.^*" The Villinger Passionsspiel of 

'^^ Edited in Richard Froning, Das Drama des Mittelalters, 3 vols., Deutsche 
National-Litteratur, vol. 14 (1891-92; repr., Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchge- 
sellschaft, 1964), 2:547-864; cf . the speedies by Ysaias, Symeon, and Johannes Bap- 
tista (w. 7189-214), which correspond to EN 18.1-3. 

^^ Edited in August Hartmann, Das Oberammergauer Passionsspiel in seiner 
altesten Gestalt (1880; repr., Schaan, Liechtenstein: Sandig, 1982), 1-100; cf. Luci- 
fer's monologue (w. 2371-402) and Adam's speech (w. 2419-28), corresponding 
to chapters 22.1 and 18.1 of the EN. 

"^ Edited in Josef Edward Wackemell, Altdeutsche Passionsspiele aus Tirol mit 
Abhandlungen iiber ihre Entwicklung . . . (1897; repr., Walluf bei Wiesbaden: Sandig, 
1972), 201-17. The Tirol group of plays consists of a large number of closely 
related play texts. Their earliest manuscripts belong to the end of the fifteenth 
century, but their origin can be traced back to the first half of that century, based 
on the reports of performances; cf. Rolf Bergmann, "Spiele, MittelalterUche 
geistliche," in Reallexikon der deutschen Literaturgeschichte, ed. Paul Merker and 
Wolfgang Stammler (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1984), 82-83, §30, "Die Tiroler Spiel- 

^^ This relation was demonstrated by Masser, "Das EvangeUum Nicodemi 
und das mittelalterliche Spiel," 55-56, and n. 27. The speeches by Symeon and 
Johctnnes Baptista (w. 3252-79) correspond particularly closely to those in 

High German Literature 331 

1600^'*^ as well as its predecessor, preserved in the Berlin Siindenfall 
und Erlosung}^ are partly dependent on the Descent scene of -the 
Tiroler Passion}'^ It is indicative of the EN's dramatic appeal that the 
author of the Villinger Passionsspiel, who throughout most of his play 
follows literally the Reformation play of Jacob Ruff (see below, sect. 
5.2), includes specifically those sections from the Tiroler Passion which 
are based on the apocryphon (speeches by Seth, Simeon, and John the 
Baptist, as well as the conversation among the devils). 

The Redentiner Osterspiel,^^ originating probably in Liibeck and 
preserved in a manuscript dating from 1464, adheres more closely to 
the EN in its representation of the Descent into Hell (w. 261-754) than 
does the Tiroler Passion. Its Harrowing of Hell opens with the same 
sequence of events as the apocryphon: the utterances of the prophets 
(w. 261-372; EN 18-19), followed by the dialogue between Satan and 
Lucifer (w. 373-486; EN 20). The series of prophecies is augmented 
only by a speech of Abel and by a second appearance of Isaiah, while 
the infernal altercation includes a mention of Judas's betrayal. The 
central incidents of the Harrowing, with the breaking of the gates of 
hell, the binding of Lucifer, and the joyful greeting of the Savior by the 
patriarchs (w. 487-617), are represented in the traditional manner 
through liturgical hymns. After a burlesque scene in which the devils 
attempt to hold John the Baptist in hell (w. 618-46), and a complaint 
by Puck and Lucifer (w. 647-68; freely modeled on EN 22-23), the 
concluding scene — again closely tied to EN 25-26 — shows Michael 
leading the patriarchs into paradise, where they meet Enoch, Elijah, 
and the Good Thief (vv. 669-754). 

The MUnchner Osterspiel,^^ written for performance before an 

Hester's Evangelium Nicodemi (w. 2880-913). 

"' Edited by Antje Knorr, Villinger Passion. Literarhistorische Einordnung und 
erstmalige Herausgabe des Urtextes und der Uberarbeitungen, Goppinger Arbeiten zur 
Germanistik, vol. 187 (Goppingen: A. Kiimmerle, 1976). 

'*^ Edited in Werner Williams-Krapp, Uberlieferung und Gattung. Zur Gattung 
"Spiel" im Mittelalter. Mit einer Edition von "Siindenfall und Erlosung" aus der 
Berliner Handschrift mgq 496, Untersuchungen zur deutschen Literaturgeschichte, 
vol. 28 (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1980). 

"^ Knorr, Villinger Passion, 120-24; Thoran, Shuiien, 206-12, 216-20, 229-32; 
Williams-Krapp, Uberlieferung, 39-42. 

^** Edited and translated by Brigitta Schottmann, Das Redentiner Osterspiel. 
Mittelniederdeutsch und Neuhochdeutsch, Redams Universal-Bibliothek, vol. 9744-47 
(Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun., 1975). 

"^ Edited by Barbara Thoran, Das MUnchner Osterspiel (Cgm 147 der Baye- 
rischen StaatsbibliothekMUnchen), Litterae, vol. 43 (Goppingen: A. Kiimmerle, 1977). 
Previously edited (without verse numbering) by A. BirUnger, "Ein SpU von der 
Urstend Christi," Archiv fUr das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literatiiren 39 
(1866): 367-400. AU subsequent references will be to Thoran's edition. 


aristocratic audience, is preserved in a late sixteenth-century manu- 
script designed for reading only. Its Harrowing of Hell (vv. 36-467) 
surpasses even the Redentiner Osterspiel in its faithfulness to the EN, 
both with respect to the sequence of the events and to the wording of 
individual speeches; in fact, it can be seen as an abridged verse transla- 
tion of the corresponding section of the apocryphon. In comparison 
with the EN, the play makes only a few additions, including the 
obligatory liturgical hymns, a few utterances (Zacharias, Moses, Abra- 
ham), and the greeting of Christ by Eve. Unique to the Munchener 
Osterspiel is the appearance of the two sons of Simeon, Carinus and 
Leucius, as characters on stage; it is they who speak with Enoch, Elijah, 
and the Good Thief. Also unusual for the German dramatic tradition 
is the enactment on stage of the questiorung of the two sons of Simeon 
by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (w. 468-557), which follows the Descent 
into Hell. Every person named in EN 17.2, "Armas et Cayfas, Nichode- 
mus et loseph et Gamaliel," makes a speech. Whereas in the EN the 
two sons of Simeon remain silent and present their report in writing, 
in the play Carinus answers the questions of Armas and Caiphas by 
describing the beginning of the Descent (based on EN 18.1). After the 
speeches by Nicodemus, Joseph, and Gamaliel, Leucius briefly reports 
all that transpired in hell. 

5.2. The interrogation of Jesus before Pilate 

Dramatic representations of Jesus' trial before Pilate^^ rely on the EN 
only in the textually closely related Passion plays of the Hessian 
group. This group includes the following:^^'' the early fourteenth- 
century Frankfurter Dirigierrolle, which gives only stage directions and 
the begirmings of speeches and hymns;^"** two fragments (not dis- 
cussed here because they do not deal with the trial before Pilate) and 
one other Dirigierrolle}^'^ and three substantial plays from the late fif- 
teenth and the early sixteenth centuries,^^° namely, the Frankfurter 

^'^ Duriez, Les Apocryphes, 11-35. 

"^ Bergmann, "Spiele," 80-81, § 28, "Die hessische Spielgruppe." 

'** Edited in Froning, Das Drama, 2:340-74; cf. Bergmann, Katalog, 113-16, 
no. 43. 

"' For the Fritzlarer Passionsspielfragment (ca. 1460) and the Friedberger 
Dirigierrolle (fifteenth century), see Bergmann, Katalog, 131-32, no. 53, and 129-31, 
no. 52, respectively. A recently discovered fragn\ent (first half of the fourteenth 
century) has been edited and discussed by Helmut Lomnitzer, "Eih Textfund zur 
Frankfurter Dirigierrolle," in Deutsche Handschrif ten 1100-1400. Oxforder Kolloquium 
1985, ed. Volker Honemann and Nigel F. Palmer (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1988), 

^™ Cf. Bergmann, Katalog, 110-13, no. 42; 169-73, no. 70; and 148-51, no. 62. 

High German Literature 333 

Passionsspiel (1493), the Alsfelder Passionsspiel (performed in 1501, 1511, 
ai\d 1517), and the Heidelberger Passionsspiel (1514). With the aid. of 
these three plays, the original text underlying the Frankfurter Dirigier- 
rolle can be partially recor\structed, although the extant plays all 
contain a remarkable number of idiosyncratic variants and extensive 
additions. To the same group of texts belongs also the biblical epic 
Erlosung, written at the beginning of the fourteenth century in the 
Mainz region, which frequently shares the wording with the aforemen- 
tioned plays. Most likely, this epic was one of the main sources for the 
Ur-play of the Hessian group.^^^ 

In its representation of the trial before Pilate, that original play 
attested in the Dirigierrolle and partly recoverable from later plays fol- 
lowed primarily the canonical gospels. However, two speeches at the 
beginning of the trial are borrowed from the EN. In one, Caiphas intro- 
duces as one of the charges against Jesus the allegation of his illegiti- 
mate birth {EN 2.3): "dar zu ist er ein kebisch kint: das wissen alle, die 
hie sint" ("furthermore, he is an illegitimate child: everyone who is 
here knows that"; Frankfurter Passionsspiel, w. 2739-40; Alsfelder Pas- 
sionsspiel, w. 3700-3701). In the other, Nicodemus defends Jesus by 
pointing out that Jesus' parents were legally married, a fact well 
known to many (cf. EN 2.4; Frankfurter Passionsspiel, w. 2743-52; 
Alsfelder Passionsspiel, vv. 3704-13). That both speeches in which the 
Frankfurt and Alsfeld plays agree belonged to the original Frankfurt 
play is evident from the stage direction for and the incipit of the first 
speech ("Kayphas respondeat: Eya rihter und herre," "Kayphas shall 
ai\swer: Oh judge and master"), as well as from the stage direction 
(stcinding on erasure) for the second speech ("Nychodemus responde- 
at," "Nychodemus shall answer") of the Frankfurter Dirigierrolle (lines 
192-93). These two borrowings from the EN are absent from the 
Heidelberger Passionsspiel and from the Erlosung. 

Substantial but mutually unrelated are other £N-based additions 
to the trial in the Alsfelder Passionsspiel and the Frankfurter Passions- 
spiel}^^ The Alsfeld play has two scenes dependent on the EN. One 

The Frankfurter Passionsspiel has been edited in Froning, Das Drama, 2:375-534; the 
Alsfelder Passionsspiel, ibid., vols. 2-3, pp. 547-864; and the Heidelberger Passions- 
spiel in Gustav Milchsack, Heidelberger Passionsspiel, Bibliothek des Litterarischen 
Vereins, vol. 150 (Tubingen: Litt. Verein, 1880). 

'^' For proof of the dependence of these plays on the Erlosung, see Rolf Berg- 
mann, Studien zu Entstehung und Geschichte der deutschen Passionsspiele des 13. und 
14. Jahrhunderts, Miinstersche Mittelalter-Schriften, vol. 14 (Munich: Fink, 1972), 
136-68. Ursula Hennig, "Erlosung," in Ruh, Verfasserlexikon, vol. 2 (1980), 599-602, 
assumes that there was a conrunon source for the Erlosung and the Hessi«in plays, 
eind provides additional literature. 

'^ Duriez, Les Apocryphes, 11-35, quotes the corresponding passages, but he 


of them shows Pilate's messenger ("cursor") escorting Jesus to the trial 
(w. 3776-835; EN 1.2-4); in the other, the banners bow miraculously 
before Jesus (w. 3836-983; EN 1.5-6). The latter scene enhances the 
dramatic effect of the play by giving speaking parts to individual stan- 
dard bearers, all of them named: after the miracle of the standards, each 
of the twelve Roman "signiferi" confirms that the "baner" bowed against 
his will. When the twelve Jewish men take over the banners, they boast 
of their physical strength and announce their determination to hold them 
firmly. But having failed, they too describe in vivid detail how the ban- 
ners were pulled down from them by force. These two scenes (the initial 
miracle and its aftermath) do not belong to the basic text of the Alsfelder 
Passionsspiel used for a performance in 1501, but are part of an addendum 
written by Henrich Hiiltscher of Alsfeld (d. 1547)}^ 

The Frankfurter Passionsspiel is more heavily influenced by the EN 
as it adapts the greater part of the EN's account of the trial. The 
following scenes are taken from the pseudo-gospel: the complaints of 
the Jews (vv. 2943-88; EN 1.1); the "cursor" scene (vv. 2989-3124; EN 
12-4); the dream of Pilate's wife (w. 3125-200; EN 2.1); the dialogue 
between Pilate and Jesus (vv. 3201-8; EN 2.2); the second accusatory 
speech by the Jews and the defense by Nicodemus (vv. 3209-24; EN 
2.3-4); Nicodemus's plea on behalf of Jesus (vv. 3280-99; EN 5.1-2); 
and the reports of those who were healed by Jesus (w. 3300-43; EN 6-7). 
On the whole, the author of the Frankfurter Passionsspiel retains the 
EN's sequence of events, although he omits the miracle of the stan- 
dards, possibly because of technical difficulties in staging it. At times 
he borrows from the apocryphon almost verbatim, but more typically 
he abridges his source. He also foregrounds the character of Nicode- 
mus, who, in the play, takes the place of the twelve righteous Jews 
defending Christ's legitimate birth (EN 2.4), and who advises Pilate to 
set Jesus free, reminding him about the Jewish practice of releasing a 
prisoner at Easter (vv. 3350-61). 

These scenes derived from the EN are introduced just before the 
second interrogation of Jesus before Pilate; they follow the questioning 
of Jesus by Herod and the meeting between Pilate and Herod (w. 
2823-942). In the first scene of interrogation before Pilate (w. 2705- 
822), the Frankfurter Passionsspiel agrees for the most part with the other 
plays of the Hessian group, yet even here one speech, the first charge 

does not remark on the totally different treatments of the material in the two 
plays and does not consider their earliest version, which accounts for their agree- 

^^ Hansjurgen Linke, "Hiiltscher, Henrich," in Ruh, Verfasserlexikon, vol. 4 
(1983), 293-94. 

High German Literature 335 

against Jesus (that he refers to himself as God, even though his father 
was Joseph the carpenter, w. 2719-28), is drawn from the EN (1.1).^^ 
In conclusion, it is worth noting that two other plays from the six- 
teenth century show familiarity with the trial section of the EN: the 
Protestant Passion play by Jacob Ruff, published in Ziirich in 1545, and 
the Villinger Passionsspiel, which in the pertinent scenes wholly de- 
pends on Ruff. In the title of his play. Ruff identifies the canonical 
gospels as his only source, and the plot of the third act, devoted 
entirely to the trial, is indeed based exclusively on the scriptural texts. 
However, the names of the Jewish accusors who come individually to 
speak before Pilate are taken from EN 1.1: "Cayphas, Annas, Simeon, 
Dathan, Gamaliel, Rabi ludas, Leui, Neptalim, Alexander, lairus." 
Moreover, the author resorts to the EN when dating Christ's Passion in 
the prologue to his play.^^ 

5.3. The arrest and deliverance of Joseph of Arimathea 

Scenes dealing with Joseph of Arimathea {EN 12, 15.6) are found only 
in the Heidelberger Passionsspiel (1514) and in the plays that belong to 
the Tiroler Passion}^ While the former enacts only the imprisonment 
of Joseph, the latter includes three scenes of Joseph's arrest, his deliver- 
ance, and the opening of his empty prison. 

In the Heidelberger Passionsspiel, the scene of Joseph's imprisonment 
(w. 6040-125; EN 12.1) is preceded by those of the burial of Christ by 
Joseph and Nicodemus and of the appointing of the guards at the 
grave. The imprisonment begins with Armas's detailed report that 
Joseph and Nicodemus removed Jesus from the cross and buried him. 
These actions prompted the Jews to place a watch at the grave and 
precipitated the death sentence on Joseph (vv. 6040-67). At this point 
enter Joseph and Nicodemus, each introduced with a slightly short- 
ened and modified Latin quotation from the EN (w. 6068-77). The 
dialogue between Joseph and the Jews, reported in the apocryphon, is 
omitted here. Ir\stead, there follows a discussion between Annas and 
Caiphas in which they decide to imprison Joseph and instruct the 

'^ Cf . the Alsfelder Passionsspiel, w. 3680-89, and the Heidelberger Passionsspiel, 
w. 4575-84. 

'^ The above quotation comes not from Ruff's Passion but from the Villinger 
Passionsspiel, edited by Knorr, with which it agrees verbatim. In the Villinger Pas- 
sionsspiel the date of the Passion is indicated in w. 235-41 of the prologue; the 
names of the Jewish accusors are found in act 3, scene 2 ff., w. 2528 ff. For a dis- 
cussion of the dependence of the Villinger Passionsspiel on Jacob Ruff, see Knorr, 
Villinger Passion, 67-102, esp. 84. 

'* Cf. Duriez, Les Apocryphes, 36-43. 


guard to secure the prison (vv. 6078-99). This scene concludes with a 
detailed dramatization of the precautions taken during the locking of 
the prison: the prison guards attach wax seals to the door, bring one 
key to Caiphas and the other to Annas, and admonish them to keep 
the keys in safe places (vv. 6100-6125). Since this scene ends, in fact, 
the entire play, it appears that the surviving play-text is incomplete: 
the detailed description of the locking of Joseph's prison anticipates a 
resolution — the deliverance of Joseph by the risen Christ — which the 
play does not provide. 

Independent of the Heidelberger Passionsspiel, the Joseph scenes in 
the Tiroler Passion^^ are inserted at three different points in the play. 
The first scene (w. 2778-815; EN 12.1), introduced after the removal of 
Jesus from the cross by Joseph and Nicodemus in the presence of Mary 
and John, consists of a brief conversation in which Joseph defends his 
actions and accuses the Jews, while Caiphas and Annas threaten him 
and arrange for his imprisonment until Easter. The second scene (w. 
3404-13) is placed between Christ's Descent into Hell and the meeting 
of the patriarchs with Enoch and Elijah. It includes a brief and consid- 
erably altered dramatization of Christ releasing Joseph from prison and 
leading him to paradise (not to Arimathea, as in EN 15.6). Some four 
himdred lines later, in the scene of the opening of Joseph's prison (w. 
3792-837), the narrative account of the EN (12.2) is transposed into 
direct speech. "Raby Moyses" and another Jew remind Caiphas that 
Joseph is still in prison. Thereupon Caiphas gives instructions to bring 
Joseph forth from the place of his confinement (here referred to as a 
"turris," "tower"). When the Jews sent to execute these orders express 
their amazement at finding the prison empty, the "Famulus turris" 
("keeper of the tower"; the phrase taken from Joseph's own account of 
his liberation in EN 15.6) tells them what has happened. The opening 
of the empty prison is followed by the report of the guards of the 
sepulcher concerning Christ's Resurrection and by the bribing of the 
guards (w. 3838-951). As in the EN, Joseph's deliverance is also 
mentioned in this scene, an exact verse translation of EN 13.1-3. 

Translated by Linwood DeLong 
and Zbigniew Izydorczyk 

'^ Wackemell, Altdeutsche Passionsspiele, 174-76, 214-15, 246-53. For a discus- 
sion of the divergent sections of the Haller Passion, see ibid., 337-39. 

The Gospel ofNicodemus in 

Dutch and Low German 

Literatures of the Middle Ages^ 


/^^^he Evangelium Nicodemi (ENf enjoyed the widest diffusion in 
vA> Dutch-speaking countries during ttie fifteenth century. While 
\y only one verse adaptation dates back to the fourteenth century, 
four different prose traiislations, plus an originally Low German 
version subsequently rendered into Dutch, belong to the fifteenth. The 
EN reached the height of its vogue in the late fifteenth century when 
it was incorporated into, and thus disseminated through, Dat Lyden 
ende die Passie Ons Heren Jhesu Christi, a frequently printed Middle 
Dutch Passion narrative. 

1. The Evangelium Nicodemi in Middle Dutch verse 

1.1. The Evangelium Nicodemi in Der leken spieghel 
of Jan van Boendale 

The only complete translation of the Evangelium Nicodemi (EN) into 
Middle Dutch verse is foimd in the didactic poem Der leken spieghel 
("Mirror of the Laity") by Jan van Boendale (b. in Tervuren in 1279, d. 
ca. 1350 in Antwerp). Jan van Boendale was appointed chief town clerk 
("scepenclerc") in Antwerp in 1314 and held that position for thirty 

' I am indebted to the following scholars for useful advice and additional 
information: J. A. A. M. Biemans (Leiden), Jan Deschiimps (Brussels), Zbigniew 
Izydorczyk (Winnipeg, Canada), Bob Miller (Oxford), and Freinsjosef Pensel 

^ H. C. Kim, ed.. The Gospel ofNicodemus: Gesta Salvatoris, Toronto Medieval 
Latin Texts, vol. 2 (Toronto: I'ontifical Institute of Mediaevel Studies, 1973); the 
EN will be dted by chapter, paragraph, and line numbers. 


years. During that period he wrote two works in addition to Der leken 
spieghel: the Brabantsche Yeesten, a chrorucle of the dukes of Brabant in 
more than 16,000 verses, completed before 1316, and the fans teesteye, 
a didactic dialogue on theological topics, firushed before 1333. He is 
considered the second most important representative of Middle Dutch 
didactic poetry after Jacob van Maerlant, whose tradition he continued 
and whom he regarded as the "vader der dietscher dichtren algader" 
("father of all Dutch poets").^ 

Boendale wrote his major work, Der leken spieghel (over 20,000 
verses),^ between 1325 and 1330 at the request of Rogier van Leefdale, 
burggrave of Brussels, and the burggrave's wife, Agnes von Kleve. In 
it, he discusses a wide variety of topics in theology, moral philosophy, 
and church history. He divides his work, which is expressly addressed 
to the laity, into four books, sequenced to reflect the history of salva- 
tion. Book 1 ("vander ouder eewen . . . ," "concerning the Old Testa- 
ment . . .") is devoted to the events of the Old Testament: it begins 
with the Creation of the world and deals with Adam, Noah, Abraham, 
Moses, David, Solomon, and the first Roman emperors. It also discuss- 
es the nature of God, the angels, the cosmos, purgatory, hell, the 
teachings regarding marriage, respect for parents, obedience, the Ten 
Commandments, and so on. Book 2 ("vander nuwer ewen . . . ," "con- 
cerning the New Testament . . .") narrates the story of the Virgin Mary 
and the childhood of Jesus to the age of twelve, as well as his Passion, 
Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven. There follows a history of the 
church to the time of Charlemagne, with explanations of important 
church practices and doctrines: the Lord's Prayer, the Ave Maria, the 
creed, the mass, liturgical vestments, and so on. Book 3 ("Scone zeden 
ende manieren. Die dat vole sal hantieren . . . ," "Exemplary customs 
and rules for the conduct of life, which people should follow . . .") 
offers general moral philosophy. It covers topics such as the relation- 
ship between husband and wife and the rearing of children, the duties 
of a sovereign, the four estates (clergy, nobility, peasants, merchants), 
and the four types of love. Of particular note in this book is the first 
recorded poetics of Middle Dutch. Book 4 ("Hoe aertrike sal inden . . .," 

^ A. V. Buuren and H. van Dijk, "Boendale, Jan van," in Lexikon des Mittelal- 
ters (Munich: Artemis Verlag, 1983), 2:307-8. 

* Its only edition, Jan van Boendale, Der leken spieghel, leerdicht van den fare 
1330, toegekend aan Jan Deckers, klerk der stad Antioerpen, ed. M. de Vries, 4 pts. 
(Leiden: D. du Mortier (en zoon), 1844-48), based on The Hague, Koninklijke Bib- 
liotheek MS. 73 E 63 (saec. XIV med.), includes facsimiles of the beginning of the 
pseudo-gospel from two manuscripts; cf. E. Verwijs and J. Verdam, eds., Middel- 
nederlandsch Woordenboek, vol. 10, Bouwstoffen. Tiveede gedeelte (G-Z), by G. I. 
Lieftinck (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1952), 365, no. 857. 

Dutch and Low German Literatures 339 

"How the world will end . . .") reaches the end of time: the conquest of 
Jerusalem by a Christian sovereign, the coming of the Antichrist, and 
the Last Judgement. Boendale used a large number of sources: for book 
1, the Book of Sidrac and the Natuurkunde des geheelals; for book 2, 
various New Testament apocrypha (described below), the Rationale 
divinorum officiorum of Wilhelm Durandus, and the Chronicon pontificum 
et imperatorum of Martin von Troppau; for book 3, the Disticha Catonis 
and the Facetus; and for book 4, the Book of Sidrac, besides other texts. 
Boendale's Der leken spieghel was relatively widely distributed: four 
complete manuscripts, ten fragments and four excerpts are still extant.^ 

The translation of the EN is contained in book 2 (over 10,000 
verses), for whose opening sections Boendale relies almost exclusively 
on the apocryphal writings of the New Testament. The first part of the 
book (chaps. 1-34) provides detailed accounts of the life of Mary from 
her birth to her marriage to Joseph, the Annunciation and the birth of 
Jesus, the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, their stay in Nazareth, 
and the miracles Jesus performed as a boy. The sources for these 
stories are — besides the Legenda aurea — Pseudo-Matthew and the Infancy 
Gospel edited by M. R. James.^ In the tenth chapter, Boendale presents 
a thorough defense of the value and usefulness of New Testament 
apocrypha (in particular, of Pseudo-Matthew, which in its Latin manu- 
script tradition was usually ascribed to Jerome), using arguments 
similar to those found in other writings of the time (for example, in the 
prologues to the Vita beate Marie virginis et Salvatoris rhythmica). He 
states that although the apocryphal writings have not been authorized 
by the church, one may read them as long as they do not contradict 
the faith, and especially if their authors are known. It is very unlikely, 
he adds, that Jesus did not perform miracles in his youth, notwith- 
standing the evangelists' silence about them. 

Boendale relates the life of Jesus orUy up to his twelfth year and 
compresses his public ministry into a brief summary of the miracles 
(chap. 35); then he continues with the story of the Passion, following a 
single apocryphal source — the EN. To explain why he passes over the 
events attested in the canorucal gospels, he points out (chap. 35, w. 7- 
18) that Jesus' life had already been excellently expounded by Jacob 

^ Jan Deschamps, Middelnederlandsche handschriften uit Europese en Amerikaanse 
bibliotheken . . . Catalogus, 2d ed. (Leiden: BriU, 1972), 116-18. 

^ M. R. James, ed., Latin Infancy Gospels: A New Text, with a Parallel Version 
from Irish (Cambridge: University Press, 1927), 2-95. The sources are discussed by 
J. J. Mak, "Boendale-Studies, HI. Boendale en Pseudo-Petrus," Tijdschrift voor 
Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde 77 (1959): 65-111; new manuscripts of James's 
Infancy Gospel have been signaled by Jan Gijsel, "Les 'fivangiles latins de 
I'enfance' de M. R. James," Analecta Bollandiana 94 (1976): 289-302. 


van Maerlant in his rendering of the Historia scholastica (the Rijmbijbel). 
There is certainly not enough evidence to conclude, as Mak does/ that 
Jan van Boendale attached little value to the Bible; rather, the opening 
of book 2 must be seen as a completion of Maerlant's Rijmbijbel with 
the aid of apocryphal sources. The poet provides a further justification 
for his decision to omit the canonical material in the sentence that 
introduces his translation of the EN: 

Ende want ghi alden dach 

Uut den ewangelien hoort doen ghewach. 

Die die ewangelisten scriven. 

So laet ic u die achter bliven, 

Ende sal u maken memorie 

Van Nichodemus hystorie. 

Die hi bescrijft herde scone 

Van Cristum, den Gods zone. (Chap. 35, vv. 109-16) 

(And since every day people hear readings from the gospels, 
as the evangelists wrote them down, I shall omit them and 
shall remind you of the story [historical account] about Christ, 
the son of God, written so well by Nicodemus.) 

In the 2092 verses of chapter 36, Boendale gives a complete and 
very close translation of the EN, under the title "Die jeeste or\s behoud- 
ers, die de keyser Theodosius vant te Jherusalem in Pylatus vierscare, 
inden ghemenen boeken" ("The deeds of our Savior, which emperor 
Theodosius found in Jerusalem in the public records in Pilate's court- 
house"), rendering literally the common Latin heading, "Gesta Salvato- 

ris " His translation omits only the prologue; otherwise it shows no 

deletions or insertions. The EN proper is continued in chapter 37 (98 
verses) with the letter of Pilate to Claudius and with a brief explana- 
tion of Pilate's motive for writing to the Roman emperor, namely, to 
preempt Jewish attempts to blame him for the death of Jesus (vv. 69- 
80). Brief mentior\s of Pilate's suicide and of the destruction of Jerusa- 
lem (w. 81-98) — the latter described in detail in Maerlant's Rijmbibel — 
conclude the chapter. The immediate source of Boendale's translation 
was a Latin vulgate text of the EN, possibly in a composite manuscript 
that also contained the Infancy Gospel edited by James. 

Boendale's faithful adherence to the Latin of the EN may be 
related to the fact that he regarded Nicodemus's accoimt as a particu- 
larly authentic, historical source for the last days of Jesus' life. In his 

^ J. J. Mak, "Boendale en de Bijbel," Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis, 
n.s., 43 (1960): 221-49. 

Dutch and Low German Literatures 341 

introduction to chapter 36, he specifically remarks — as does Heinrich 
von Hesler — that Nicodemus observed the events that followed Jesus' 
arrest at very dose range, unlike the disciples who had all fled (w. 1- 
16). Two chapters later, he lists the events that Nicodemus does not 
report — the Last Supper, the betrayal by Judas, the arrest and the inter- 
rogation by Annas and Cayphas — and explains that Nicodemus did 
not witness them personally. Nicodemus's story begins only at the 
moment he becomes involved in the proceedings against Jesus, that is, 
at the beginning of the trial before Pilate; he thus recoimts only what 
he has actually seen (chap. 38, w. 1-76). Boendale uses the example of 
Nicodemus and his fidelity to truth as an occasion to polemicize 
against contemporary fellow poets who uncritically included every- 
thing in their histories, whether it was true or false. He urgentiy ad- 
monishes the writers of "hystorien" to restrict themselves to authentic 
accounts because the term "hystoria," he reminds them, is derived 
from the Greek word hystoron, which means "zien" ("to see"; chap. 38, 
w. 77-112). 

1.2. The Evangelium Nicodemi in Jacob van Maerlant's 
Spiegel Historiael and Historic van den grale 

Even before Jan van Boendale, his model, Jacob van Maerlant (b. ca. 
1235, d. ca. 1300), had briefly treated the substance of the pseudo- 
gospel in his monumental poem Spiegel Historiael,^ an adaptation, 
begvm in 1283, of Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum historiale. In the 
seventh book of part 1, chapters 33 and 36-39, Maerlant relates the 
arrest and freeing of Joseph of Arimathea, the report of the soldiers 
who guarded the sepulcher, the three witnesses to the Ascension, and 
the Descent into Hell as narrated by the two sons of Simeon. He 
summarizes and highly abbreviates his source, the Speculum historiale 
7.48 and 7.56-63; concluding the Descensus, he remarks, 

Daer dit aldus was bescreven. 

Ende daertoe wonderliker dine, 

Dat ic cortelike overghinc. (Chap. 39, w. 46-48) 

(where [i.e., in the reports of the two sons of Simeon regarding 
the Descent] all these things were described, together with 
more marvellous things that I have omitted in the interest of 

* Jacob van Maerlant, Jacob xxin Maerlant's Spiegel Historiael . . . , ed. M. de 
Vries and E. Verwijs, pt. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1863). For bibliography, see Deschamps, 
Middelnederlandsche handschriften, 93-95, no. 27. 


Although it frequently refers to Nychodemus Ewangelie, Maerlant's 
Spiegel is not based directly on the EN; rather, those references, like the 
rest of the text, are derived from Vincent's Speculum. The poet ends his 
narrative of the apocryphal events with a critical comment about the 
lies that Grail romances have spread concerning Joseph of Arimathea: 

Van desen Joseph van Arimathien 

Maken hare favelien 

Die logenaren vanden Grale, 

Dat ic vor niet houde altemale. (Chap. 39, vv. 61-64) 

(Those who lie about the Grail make up their fables concern- 
ing this Joseph of Arimathea. I do not believe any of them.) 

These verses should be viewed in the context of numerous polemics in 
Maerlant's Spiegel Historiael against French Grail romances.^ They per- 
tain especially to the Roman du Saint-Graal of Robert de Boron, which 
deals with the origin of the Grail, the chalice of the Last Supper filled 
by Joseph of Arimathea with Christ's blood at the time of the deposi- 
tion from the cross. Maerlant himself translated the prose version of 
that work into E>utch verse in his Historie van den Grale as early as 

In his prologue to the Historie van den Grale, Maerlant complains 
that his French source contains many historical untruths ("Ick wille dat 
gij des zeker zijt / Dat ick de historie vele valsch / Ge vonden hebbe 
in dat walsch," vv. 20-22; "I want you to be convinced that the story 
I found in the French source was totally false"). He, therefore, makes 
substantial corrections to the contents of that source,^^ drawing on the 
£N, the Cura sanitatis Tiberii, and Josephus, in addition to the Bible. 
Thus, for instance, he criticizes Robert's assertions that the Last Supper 
and the arrest took place in the house of Simon the Leper and that 
Joseph of Arimathea was Pilate's soldier because both these assertions 
contradict the Bible. 

Maerlant departs from his source most substantially in the story of 
the imprisonment of Joseph of Arimathea. According to Robert de 
Boron, the Jews imprisoned Joseph so that he might not steal the body 
of Jesus. In his prison cell, Joseph was visited by Christ, who gave him 
the chalice of the Last Supper and taught him about the mysteries of 

^ J. te Winkel, "De Boron's Joseph d'Arimathie en Merlin in Maerlant's verta- 
ling," Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsche Taal- en Letterkunde 1 (1881): 355-63. 

^° Jacob van Maerlant, Historie van den Grale und Boek van Merline, ed. Timo- 
thy Sodman, Niederdeutsche Studien, vol. 26 (Cologne: Bohlau, 1980), 115-60, w. 
1-1607. For an account of Robert's version, see above, pp. 120 ff. 

" te Winkel, "De Boron's Joseph d'Arimathie," 332-42. 

Dutch and Low German Literatures 343 

the Eucharist and the Grail. Joseph was not delivered from prison, 
Robert maintains, until the conquest of Jerusalem by emperor Vespa- 
sian. From Robert's narrative, Maerlant accepts as credible orJy Jesus' 
visit to Joseph's prison, the gift of the Grail, and Jesus' teaching. The 
rest of the story he dismisses as improbable because if it were to be 
true, Joseph would have had to spend forty-two years in jail. Instead, 
following the suggestion of the EN ("de ware lesse," v. 431; "the true 
account"), Maerlant maintains that, immediately after the Resurrection, 
Jesus delivered Joseph from prison and that the guards of the sepul- 
cher pointed out to the Jews that Joseph had been freed (w. 424-70; 
EN 12, 13, 15.6). He also replaces Boron's account of the events leading 
to Joseph's liberation by Vespasian (the healing of Vespasian afflicted 
with leprosy by Veronica's icon of Christ and Vespasian's expedition 
against Jerusalem) — not only irrelevant in his own work but also 
discredited as unhistorical — ^with two stories of greater relevance and 
credibility. He bases his versions of these stories on the Pilate- Veronica 
legend as told in the Cura sanitatis Tiberii and on Josephus's description 
of the destruction of Jerusalem. 

1.3. Christ's Harrowing of Hell in the Van den levene ons Heren 

The Van den levene ons Heren, perhaps the most important Middle 
Dutch scriptural poem, was written possibly in the first half of the thir- 
teenth century.^^ In barely 5000 verses, it tells the life and suffering of 
Jesus, drawing mainly on the gospels. It is usually considered the 
earliest witness to the reception of the EN in Middle Ehitch because it 
contains a detailed section describing Christ's Descent into Hell (w. 
3931-4503)." However, that section shows little resemblance to the 
EN. Before relating the Harrowing of Hell, the poet gives an impres- 
sive description — not unlike those found in visions of the otherworld, 
such as the Visio Pauli or the Visio Tnugdali — of various infernal tor- 
ments (w. 3931-4160). The actual Descent he treats rather briefly, in 
slightly over a hundred verses (vv. 4161-276). This episode, perhaps 
influenced by iconography, begins with the soul of Jesus destroying 
with his cross the gates of hell and illuminating the underworld (w. 
4161-76). Other motifs follow in quick succession: the joyful greeting 
of Jesus by Adam and the patriarchs and prophets; Jesus' explanation 
that he has suffered death for their sake; and the patriarchs' departure 

^^ Edited by W. H. Beuken, Van den levene ons Heren, 2 pts., Zwolse drukken 
en herdrukken, vols. 60A and 60B (ZwoUe: W. E. J. Tleenk Willink, 1968). 

" Cf. Beuken, Van den levene ons Heren, 2:189. Beuken's opinion (ibid., 98-99) 
that the description of the Crucifixion was influenced by the EN is erroneous. 


from hell amid songs in praise of the Savior (w. 4177-276). A long 
altercation between Jesus and the devil (which faintly foreshadows 
later processus Satanae, such as Jacobus de Theramo's Belial) forms the 
conclusion to the poem's Descent section. The altercation begins when 
Satan, in the company of his minions, pursues Jesus and the saints; he 
charges that Jesus stole the spoils which since the Fall of man had 
rightfully belonged to him and accuses Jesus of breaking the law. 
Thereupon Jesus explains to him that through his Incarnation and his 
death on the cross, he redeemed all those who had been prisoners in 
hell (w. 4277-503). 

2. Prose translations 

Prose translations of the EN into Middle Dutch and Middle Low Ger- 
man date from approximately the begirming of the fifteenth century. 
Four different Dutch translations (A, B, C, D) and one Low German (L) 
are still extant. Two of the Dutch versions have already been edited: B 
by Jacobs, and both A and B by Cumps;^^ an edition of the Low Ger- 
man translation has been published by Masser.^^ Unlike most High 
German translations, the Dutch and Low German texts are based on 
Latin models that did not contain the Pilate- Veronica legend as an 
addendum: three of them (A, B, C) used the common A type of the EN 
with the letter of PUate, and the remaining two (D and L), a version 
that incorporated Tischendorf's chapter 28. 

Translation A exists in two North- West Dutch manuscripts dating 
from the first half of the fifteenth century:^^ 

" J. Jacobs, ed., "Een nieuw Mnl. handschrift van het Evangelic van Nicode- 
mus," in Verslagen en Mededelingen der Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Taal- en 
Letterkunde (Gent: Erasmus, 1926), 546-87; Jan Gumps, ed., "De Middelneder- 
landse prozavertalingen van het Evangelium Nicodemi" (Licentiaatsverhandeling, 
Leuven, 1%3). 

" Achim Masser, ed., Dat ewangelium Nicodemi van deme lidende vnses heren 
Ihesu Christi. Zwei mittelniederdeutsche Fassungen, Texte des spaten Mittelalters vind 
der friihen Neuzeit, vol. 29 (Berlin: E. Schmidt, 1978). 

'* Gumps, "De Middelnederlandse prozavertalingen," 67-96, printed the text 
of A2 and variants from Al (139-62). See G. I. Lieftinck, Codices Manuscripti V. 
Codicum in finibus Belgarum ante annum 1550 conscriptorum qui in bibliotheca uni- 
versitatis asservantur pars I, Codices 168-360 societatis cui nomen Maatschappij der 
Nederlandsche Letterkunde (Leiden: Brill, 1948), 93-94, 137-38, and Gumps, "De 
Middelnederlandse prozavertalingen," 31-35, for descriptions of manuscript A2; 
and Werner Williams-Krapp, Die deutschen und niederlandischen Legendare des 
Mittelalters. Studien zu ihrer Uberlieferungs-, Text- und Wirkungsgeschichte, Texte und 
Textgeschichte, vol. 20 (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1986), 77, for Al. 

Dutch and Low German Literatures 345 

Al Leiden, Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit (BRU) MS. Ltk 280, fols. 

lra-9vb; from the convent of St. Barbara in Amsterdam (Sisters 

of the Third Order of St. Francis); 
A2 Leiden, BRU MS. Ltk 316, fols. 65r-99r. 

In Al, the EN occurs at the beginning of a legendary. In A2, it is pre- 
ceded by a Passion tract of Heinrich von St. Gallen and followed by 
several short texts (the letter of pseudo-Lentulus describing Jesus' 
physical appearance, the five "bloetstortinghen" ["sheddings of 
blood"] of Jesus, etc., partly excerpted from the Pseudo-Bonaventura- 
Ludolfiaanse Leven van Jesus). Translation A follows the Latin text very 
closely but remains fluent and free of imitations of Latin syntax. Its 
source must have been a Latin manuscript fairly similar to that edited 
by Kim.^^ The arrangement of the texts in A is noteworthy: first 
comes Pilate's letter and only then the actual EN (with the prologue). 
In both manuscripts, the EN ends at chapter 27.1.11; a large section of 
the final chapter (the end of the report on the Etescent and the reac- 
tions to it) is, therefore, missing. As a result of these two changes — the 
placement of Pilate's letter at the beginning and the omission of the 
concluding section — the entire EN appears as Pilate's report to the 
Roman emperor. Only A2 contains a heading for the entire text, which 
draws attention to the apocryphal nature of the EN: "nicodemus 
ewangeli dat geheten is die verholen passie" ("the Gospel of Nicodem- 
us, which is called the hidden passion"). Al contains instead two 
headings, one for Pilate's letter, "Een epistel die pylatus tot claudium 
die keyser screef" ("A letter that Pilate wrote to emperor Claudius") 
and one at the begiiming of the EN proper, "Vander passien ons heren 
ende verrisenisse" ("Regarding the Passion and Resurrection of our 
Lord"). Al, but not A2, divides the EN into consecutively numbered 
chapters. In the fifteenth century, a copy of this translation may have 
also been owned by the monastery of St. Barbara in Delft (Sisters of the 
Third Order of St. Francis), for a medieval catalogue of the studierboe- 
ken of this convent lists a Middle Dutch translation of the EN tmder the 
title "Nicodemus ewangelien" ("Gospels of Nicodemus").^' 

The Middle Dutch translation B probably originated in the south- 
east of the Ehitch-speaking area because all its extant manuscripts 
come from that region:^' 

'' Kim, The Gospel of Nicodemus. 

'* W. Moll, "De boekerij van het St. Barbara-Klcxjster te Delft in de tweede 
helft der vijftiende eeuw . . . ," Kerkhistorisch ArchiefA (1866): 224, 241. 

" Jacobs, "Een nieuw Mnl. handschrift," 552-S7, prints the text of B2; Cumps, 
"De Middelnederlandse prozavertalingen," 98-136, prints the text of Bl and gives 
variants from B2 and B3, 165-223. For descriptions of the nuinuscripts, see ibid.. 


Bl Leuven-Heverlee, Abdij van Park MS. 17, fols. 31r-74r; ca. 1400, 
from the Carthusian monastery of Zelem near Diest; 

B2 Diest, Kruisherenklooster (Canons Regular of the Holy Cross), 
no shelf-mark; ca. 1450; probably from the Begijnhof in Diest; 

B3 Utrecht, Bibliotheek der Universiteit MS. 2 D 23 (1032), fols. 
112v-43v; ca. 1470, Beghards of Maastricht. 

All three manuscripts are very small in format. B2 contains orUy the 
EN; in the other two, the apocryphon is found within the context of 
other Passion texts: a translation of pseudo-Bede's De meditatione pas- 
sionis Christi per septem diet horas libellus precedes it in Bl, and a variety 
of Passion texts (among them the Brigitten passie and the Passion from 
a gospel harmony) accompanies it in B3. The close cormection between 
the EN and Passion texts is also indicated by its title: "Nycodemus 
passi" ("Passion of Nicodemus"). 

B translates the EN very loosely and tries to achieve clarity and 
comprehensibility through numerous amplificatioris (factual explana- 
tions, motives for actions, double translations). As in sermons, many 
biblical quotations, in particular sayings of the prophets pertaining to 
the Descent, are first given in Latin and then translated. Some longer 
additions occur in the story of the Passion, especially in the scenes of 
the flagellation, the crowning with thorns, and the Crucifixion. It is 
noteworthy that the writer has completely omitted chapter 2, probably 
on dogmatic grounds. He may have taken exception to the content of 
this chapter, which includes the statements of the twelve witnesses to 
the marriage of Joseph and Mary. Later, in chapter 12.1, he hints at 
what the twelve would have testified — their testimony agreeing here 
with the teaching of the church but not with the EN — namely that 
Jesus was bom of a virgin: "die .xii. die ghetuicht hadden. Dat Jhesus 
van ghenen mans toe doen gheboren en weer. mer vanden heilghen 
gheest. in der reinre maecht liif ontfanghen weer" ("the twelve who 
confirmed that Jesus was not bom of any man but was conceived by 
the Holy Ghost in the womb of the pure virgin").^" 

Translation C survives in only one manuscript. The Hague, 
Koninklijke Bibliotheek MS. 73 H 10, fols. 3r-llv (in Limburg dialect. 

36-46 (Bl and B2); Jan Deschamps, in Handschriften uit Diestse kerken en kloosters, 
Diestsche Cronycke, vol. 6 (Diest: Vrienden van het Stedelijk Museum en Archief 
Diest, 1983), 144-46 (32, with a reproduction of fol. Ir), and 180-^1 (Bl); 
P. A. Tiele and A. Hulshof, Catalogus codicum manu scriptorum Bibliothecae Universi- 
tatis Rheno-Trajectinae, vol. 1 (Utrecht: Kemink et Fil., 1887), 252 (B3); and Jan 
Deschamps, Tentoonstelling van Middelnederlandse handschriften uit beide Limburgen. 
Catalogus (Hasselt: Provinciale Bibliotheek te Hasselt, 1954), 43-44 (B3). 
^° Cumps, "De Middelnederlandse prozavertalingen," 112.431-34. 

Dutch and Low German Literatures 347 

from the Augustinian nunnery of St. Agnes near Maaseik).^^ The sec- 
ond part of this manuscript (fols. 12-159), which contains the Pseudo- 
Bonaventura-Ludolfiaanse Leven van Jesus, was written in 1427; the first 
part, containing the EN, is somewhat later. The manuscript preserves 
only the Descent portion of the EN (chaps. 17.2-27.5) and the letter 
from Pilate to Claudius. It is not clear whether or not this is only a 
fragment of a complete translation of the EN. Apart from the introduc- 
tory sentence ("Men leset inden ewangelio van nycodemus wye ons 
heer die helle schoerden ende nam dar wt sijne vrinde," "One reads in 
the Gospel of Nicodemus how our Lord destroyed hell and removed 
his friends from there") and the begiiming based loosely on EN 17.2 
and relating how the two sons of Simeon were brought to Jerusalem, 
the surviving text is a straightforward, unadulterated translation of the 
last section of the EN, without any noteworthy omissions or insertions. 
The translator clearly attempted to formulate simple, easily compre- 
hensible sentences, especially where the syntax of the Latin original is 
opaque or complicated. 

Translation D, heretofore unknown to scholars, survives in two 

Dl Leiden, BRU MS. B. P. L. 61, fols. 163ra-69rb; North-West Dutch, 

written ca. 1490; 
D2 Linz, Bundesstaatliche Studienbibliothek MS. 194 (new 224), fols. 

143r-74r; Rhenish Franconian, from the area around Kaiserslau- 

tem; dating from 1529. 

The Dutch manuscript Dl contains only a portion of the translation, 
beginning at EN 11.1 (heading: "die verrysenisse ons heren wt nycode- 
mus ewangelium," "the Resurrection of our Lord, from the Gospel of 
Nicodemus"); D2, on the other hand, transmits the complete text 
(heading: "Nicodemus ewangelium von der passien vnsers herren 
Jhesu Christi," "The Gospel of Nicodemus regarding the Passion of 
our Lord Jesus Christ") but in a Rhenish Franconian rendition. Never- 
theless, it is certain that this translation was made not in a German but 

^^ I was able to examine a microfilm copy of the EN section of this manu- 
script. The manuscript is described in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, 
Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Regiae, vol. 1, Libri theologici (The 
Hague, 1922), no. 700, and by Jan Deschamps, "Handschriften uit het Sint- 
Agnesklooster te Maaseik," in Album M. Bussels (Hasselt: Federatie der Geschied- 
en Oudheidkundige Kringen van Limburg, 1%7), 173. 

^ I was able to examine microfilms of both manuscripts. I was directed to Dl 
through the work of W. Williams-Krapp {Die deutschen und niederlandischen 
Legendare). I am grateful to Prof. Zbigniew Izydorczyk for informing me of the 
existence of D2. Dl is discussed below in section 3. There is only one impub- 
lished, typewritten description of D2. 


rather in a Dutch-speaking territory, because D2 shows a large number 
of Middle Dutch elements — expressions that are found only in Middle 
Dutch, such as "vierschare" (for the Latin "tribunal / praetorium," 
hall of judgement), "discipel" ("discipulus," disciple), "blixem" ("ful- 
gur," lightening) — at times pairing them in double translations with 
their German equivalents, as in "volburt oder consent" (consent), 
"persecucien oder liden" (persecution or suffering), "hermite oder eyn 
einsiedel" (hermit), "passien oder martel" (passion). Translation D was 
probably completed in the first half of the fifteenth century, notwith- 
standing the late dates of the manuscripts, since it was used as a 
source by the author of the Middle Dutch Passion story Dat Lyden ende 
die Passie (see below, sect. 3). The translator based his work on the 
Latin text which named Theodosius as its patron and which included 
Tischendorf's chapter 28. He rarely translates word for word, fre- 
quently paraphrasing only the sense of the Latin original. 

The Low German translation (L) has been edited by Masser on the 
basis of only one manuscript: Liineburg, Ratsbiicherei MS. theol. 2° 83, 
fols. 134ra-45rb (saec. XV med., from the Benedictine monastery of St. 
Michael in Liineburg; siglum Ll).^ Three additional manuscripts 
prove that this translation was known not only in the Low German but 
also in the Limburg and Ripuarian dialectal areas: 

L2 Lubeck, Stadtbibliothek MS. theol. germ. fol. 9, fols. 103ra-20vb; 

1475, from the Sisters of Common Life, Liibeck;^* 
L3 The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek MS. 133 E 6, fols. 237r-69v; 

ca. 1470, in northern Limburg dialect, from the Augustinian 

nunnery of Jerusalem in Venray;^ 

^ Edited in Masser, Dat ewangelium Nicodemi, 30-60. The manuscript is 
described ibid., 9-15. The text of LI, printed by Masser, contains numerous 
lacimae; a complete, although by no means error-free, text is preserved in the 
Lubeck manuscript, L2, now again available to scholars. 

^* I have consulted a microfilm of L2. Since World War n, the manuscripts of 
Stadtbibliothek Lubeck were kept in the Soviet Union (Leningrad, Moscow); most 
of the German manuscripts, including MS. theol. germ. fol. 9, were returned to 
Lubeck in 1990. For a brief description of L2, see Paul Hagen, Die deutschen theo- 
logischen Handschriften der Lubeckischen Stadtbibliothek, Veroffentlichungen der 
Stadtbibliothek der freien und Hansestadt Lubeck, vol. 1, pt. 2 (Lubeck: 
M. Schmidt, 1922), 6-7. A detailed but unpublished description by Hagen, 
preserved in Handschriftenarchiv des Zentralinstituts fiir Sprachwissenschaft der 
Akademie der Wissenschaften of the former GDR in Berlin, had made it possible 
to identify this text even before the manuscript was returned to Lubeck. I am very 
grateful to Dr. Fransjosef Pensel for sending me a copy of this manuscript 

" I have identified this text on the basis of a microfilm copy. Cumps, "De 
Middelnederlandse prozavertalingen," 25, incorrectly links this manuscript to 
translation A. For descriptions of the manuscript, see Williams-Krapp, Die 

Dutch and Low German Literatures 349 

L4 Darmstadt, Hessische Landes- und Hochschulbibliothek MS. 
1848, fols. 197v-237r; ca. 1500, Ripuarian, probably from the 
Augustinian nunnery of St. Maria Magdelena in Cologne.^^ 

In both Low German manuscripts LI and L2, two brief texts translated 
from the Legenda aurea, one on the appearances of the risen Christ and 
the other on his Ascension, are appended to the EN; in LI, they are 
further extended with a Passion story based on the Historia scholastica. 
In L3, the EN concludes a legendary for the months of December and 
January (a mixture of the northern and southern Middle Dutch Legenda 
aurea and the additional legends). L4 is a composite manuscript with 
a large number of texts on the Passion; its EN is preceded by a legend 
of the cross. 

The author of L translated his source — the same Latin redaction 
with chapter 28 which was used as the basis for translation D — most 
literally, closely adhering to the Latin word order and copying Latin 
syntax. The translation is best preserved in L2 and LI, although the 
latter has many lacunae. It is slightly revised in terms of style in L3 
and somewhat abbreviated in L4. It appears to have originated in the 
Low German linguistic area because the only manuscripts to contain 
the unrevised text are the two genetically distant Low German manu- 
scripts LI and L2; furthermore, the Limburg and Ripuarian manu- 
scripts, L3 and L4 respectively, show some textual misunderstandings 
which can be explained only on the basis of Low German models. 

The EN preserved in a Low German manuscript now at the 
Herzog-August-Bibliothek in Wolfenbiittel, Cod. Guelf. 430 Helmst., 
fols. 131va-55vb (written in 1456, from the monastery of Klus near 
Gandersheim),^ is not a reflex of any original Dutch or Low German 
translation; rather, it is a Low German adaptation of a High German 
version of the apocryphon, the Alemaimic version E. 

deutschen und niederlUndischen Legendare, 74, and L. Schexirkogel, "Dat ander 
Pasenael, de Noordnederlandse vertaling van de Legenda aurea" (Ph.D. diss., 
Groningen, 1990), 34-35. 

" I was able to examine a microfilin copy of this manuscript, brought to my 
attention by Bob Miller (Oxford). It is described by Kurt Hans Staub and Thomas 
Sanger, Deutsche und niederlandische Handschriften. Mit Ausnahme der Gebetbuch- 
handschriften (Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz, 1991), 97-103. 

^ Described and edited by Masser, Dat ewangelium Nicodemi, 15-19; 61-97. 


3. Dat Lyden ende die Passie Ons Heren Jhesu Christi 

It was through the Passion treatise entitled Dat Lyden ende die Passie 
Ons Heren Jhesu Christi ("The suffering and the Passion of our Lord 
Jesus Christ")^^ that the subject matter of the EN was most extensive- 
ly diffused in large numbers of Middle Dutch manuscripts and printed 
books.^' This work gives an account of the Passion of Christ, together 
with the events that preceded and followed it. The Lyden begins with 
the attempt by the Jews to stone Jesus 0n. 10:22), the raising of Lazarus 
from the dead, and the decision by the Jewish leaders to kill Jesus; it 
continues through to Pentecost. There follows an examination by the 
Jews of the witnesses to Christ's Ascension and Descent, as recorded 
in EN 14-27. The Lyden concludes with an extended meditation and 
hymns in praise of Jesus. 

The printed versions of the Lyden open with the following heading: 

Hier beghint dat lyden ende die passie ons heren Jhesu 
Christi. ende die teykenen ende die miraculen die hy dede nae 
dien dat hi ghecruust was alsoe die vier euangelisten 
bescreuen hebben ende Joseph van Aromathia ende Nyco- 
demus getughet hebben. gelijkerwijs als sy seluer gesien 
hebben ende gehoert. (1.1-6) 

(Here begins the suffering and Passion of our Lord Jesus 
Christ and the signs and miracles he performed after he was 
crucified, as the four gospel writers described it and as Joseph 
of Arimathea and Nicodemus testified according to what they 
themselves saw and heard.) 

One might be tempted to infer from this heading that the author relied 
primarily on the canonical gospels and the EN as his sources. How- 
ever, a detailed examination of his sources leads to a totally different 
conclusion:^ the main text that underlies and links the whole Lyden 

^^ Hereafter referred to as Lyden. Edited by Alfred Holder, Dat Lyden ende die 
Passie ons Heren Jhesu Christi, Bibliotheek van Middelnederlandse Letterkunde, 
vol. 19 (Groningen: J. B. Wolters, 1877). 

^' In the manuscript on which Holder based his edition — Karlsruhe, Badische 
Landesbibliothek MS. 701, fols. 6r-164r (ca. 1510) — a whole quire is missing cifter 
fol. 133. In addition, fols. 150-57 have been rearranged during binding; their 
original sequence must have been as follows: 152, 153, 150, 151, 156, 157, 154, 155. 
These defects in the original manuscript, unnoticed by Holder, explain the 
absence from Holder's edition of a substantial portion of the text after p. 69.6 (fol. 
133; the entire account of the Ascension of Jesus) and the confused state of the 
text between pp. 77.32 and 82.13 (fols. 150-57; the Descent into Hell and the be- 
ginning of the closing meditation). 

^ I can only simvmarize here the results of my examination of the sources. I 

Dutch and Low German Literatures 351 

is the Middle Dutch Pseudo-Bonaventura-Ludolfiaanse Leven van Jesus 
(hereafter Leven), chapters 22-53.^^ Both the opening section of- the 
Lyden, relating the events leading up to Holy Tuesday of the Passion 
Week, and the conclusion, concerned with the deposition from the 
cross, the burial, up to the miracle at Pentecost, correspond almost 
exactly to the Leven?^ The Leven, a meditation that invites readers to 
pious reflection on all stations of Christ's Passion, is here transformed 
into a purely narrative text, from which all meditative passages have 
been purged. A few short, entirely narrative chapters of the Leven (e.g., 
most of the chapters on the appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection) 
have been incorporated by the author of the Lyden almost without 
change. In the Passion story itself, from Holy Wednesday to the Cruci- 
fixion, there are only occasional verbatim borrowings from the Leven, 
but even here the meditative treatise functions as a continuous thread 
connecting the narrated events. 

The author of the Lyden must have also consulted the gospels, 
although it is often difficult to determine in exactly what form. For the 
episode with the disciples on the road to Emmaus (64.4-65.17), he used 
a Middle Dutch gospel harmony, borrowing from it verbatim.^ In 
addition, he turned to at least one other source for details of the mis- 
treatment of Jesus, his nailing to the cross, etc., absent from the canoni- 
cal narratives. Unlike many other Passion texts of the period, the Lyden 
does not dwell on the descriptions of the cruelties inflicted on Jesus by 
the Jews; instead, its emphasis falls on the compassion of Mary. 

The EN available to the author of the Lyden was not a Latin ver- 
sion but rather an earlier Dutch translation, version D. At various 
points he inserts excerpts from this translation: at the beginning of the 
trial before Pilate (30.7-35.34; EN 1.1-3.2, 5.1-2), at the arrest of Joseph 
of Arimathea (53.1-54.12; EN 12.1-2), and at the opening of the empty 
prison and the report of the guards of the sepulcher (57.12-58.28; EN 
12.2-13.3). He also intercalates the complete conclusion of the EN 

intend to publish their complete analysis in the near future. 

^' Edited by C. C. de Bruin, Tleven Ons Heren Ihesu Cristi. Het Pseudo- 
Bonaventura-Ludolfiaanse Leven van Jesus, Corpus Sacrae Scripturae Neerlandicae 
Medii Aevi, Miscellanea, vol. 2 (Leiden: Brill, 1980). 

^^ Lyden, pp. 1.17-13.3, corresponds to Leven, chaps. 22-25 (124.24-41.4); 
Lyden, pp. 47.35-71.26, to Leven, chaps. 34-53 (185-220). The concluding medita- 
tion of the Lyden (80.1-85.24) is based partly on the Leven (224.14-27.9; a transla- 
tion of pseudo-Bemcird's song "Jesu dulds memoria"). 

^ He seems to have used a combination of the Liege and the later Cambridge 
diatessarons. Both have been edited by C. C. de Bruin in 1970 {Het Diatessaron van 
Cambridge, Corpus Sacrae Scripturae Neerlandicae Medii Aevi, Series Minor, vol. 
1, pt. 3 [Leiden: BriU, 1970]; Het Luikse Diatessaron, Corpus Sacrae Scripturae 
Neerlandicae Medii Aevi, Series Minor, vol. 1, pt. 1 [Leiden: Brill, 1970]). 


(14.1-27.5) between his account of the events of Pentecost and the 
closing meditation (71.2S-80.1). For the most part, he adapts his source 
freely, at times making substantial changes. Thus the twelve witnesses 
who in EN 2.4 testify on behalf of Jesus at the trial before Pilate ("die 
goede Joden," "the good Jews") reappear in his concluding section. It 
is they who ensure that Joseph of Arimathea is questioned by the High 
Council and, at the end, communicate to the apostles the story of the 
Descent (74.2 ff.; 79.24 ff.). 

The actual report of the two sons of Simeon is only briefly summa- 
rized (79.3-15) because the Descent is discussed directly after Christ's 
death (55.25-57.2). The model for the Descent was not the EN but 
rather the Leven (194.20-95.10, with additions). Similarly, the references 
to Jesus' repeated visits to the patriarchs in paradise after their deliver- 
ance from hell and to their translation from paradise to heaven shortly 
before his own Ascension are borrowed from the Leven. Finally, the 
story of the deliverance of Joseph of Arimathea (62.26-34), derived ulti- 
mately from the EN, is also taken directly from the Leven (220.16-24). 

The extraordinary popularity of the Lyden, a straightforwardly nar- 
rative, simple text that describes the Passion, death. Resurrection, and 
Ascension of Christ, is attested above all by the large number of its 
printed editions. Even as a handwritten text, it was widely dissemi- 
nated. One can identify three different versions of the Lyden: a brief, 
original version, preserved primarily in early prints {Lyden 1); and two 
longer, more elaborate texts that exist only in manuscript redactions 
{Lyden 2 and Lyden 3). 

Lyden 1. There are at least twenty printed editions of this version (see 
above for the heading; incipit: "Hier beghinnet alsoe als die Joden in 
haren rade vergaderden om Jhesum te doden," "Here begins [the 
story] of how the Jews convened in their council in order to kill Jesus") 
published between 1477 and ca. 1528.^^ In the seventeenth century, it 
was reprinted twice more, in 1665 and 1671, under the title 't Wonder- 
lyk Etiangelium van Nicodemus, together with an anti-Catholic polemical 
treatise by Arnoldus Montanus.^^ In addition, the following manu- 
scripts transmit its unabridged text: 

** Cf. M.-F.-A.-G. Campbell, Annates de la typographic neerlandaise au XV sikcle 
(The Hague: M. Nijhof, 1874), 324-28, nos. 1153-68; idem. Annates de la typographic 
neerlandaise au XV* si^cle. 2. supplement (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1884), 28; 
W. Nijhoff and M. E. Kronenberg, Nederlandsche Bibliographic van 1500 tot 1540 
(The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1923), 2:695, nos. 3678-80, and vol. 3, pt. 2, pp. 49-50, no. 

^ Cf. D. Grosheide, " 't Wonderlyk Euangelium van Nicodemus," Het Back, 
Derde Reeks, 34 (1961): 133-41. 

Dutch and Low German Literatures 353 

Antwerp, Museum Plantin-Moretus MS. 182, fols. 104r-213r; 

saec. XVI in.; 
Brussels, Bibliotheque royale Albert F MS. 10765-66, fols. 8r-114r; 

saec. XV ex.; 
Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek MS. 701, fols. 6r-163v; ca. 


Two further manuscripts contain an abbreviated version that begins 
only with the Last Supper (16.8-78.12): 

Amsterdam, Universiteitsbibliotheek MS. I G 5, fols. 23r-81v; 

ca. 1430; 
olim Leuven, Universiteitsbibliotheek MS. 145.^^ 

Lyden 2. The full text of this redaction is found in one manuscript 
(Gh), and portions of it occur in three others (Am, Ldl, Dii):^ 

Gh The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek MS. 73 H 8, fols. lr-190v; ca. 
1460, from the Augustinian nunnery of St. Agnes near Maaseik. 
Indpit: "Alle die ghene die mynne hebben van dat liden ons 
heren te horen die soelen horen syn op doen" ("All those who 
would like to hear about the suffering of our Lord should open 
their minds"). 

Am Amsterdam, Universiteitsbibliotheek MS. I E 27, fols. lllr-93r; 
dated 1469, from the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, 's- 
Hertogenbosch ("susteren van sunte Elyzabeth ten bloemen 
camp"). Heading: "Hier volghet na vander passien ende liden 
ons lieuen heren ihesu cristi. ende vanden werken die voer der 
passien geschieden. ende sonderlinghe vanden werken die onse 
here dede vanden palmsondach totten witten donredach toe" 
("Here follows [the story] of the Passion and the suffering of our 
dear Lord Jesus Christ and of the deeds that occurred before the 
Passion, and especially of the deeds that our Lord performed 
from Palm Simday to Maundy Thursday"). The text preserved 
here extends only to the Descent into Hell; it corresponds to fols. 
lr-122r of Gh. TTie Leven, chapters 1-22, precedes the Lyden.^ 

^ Printed by Holder, Dat Lyden ende die Passie. 

^ This list of manviscripts is based on the vinpublished material firom the cata- 
logue of the Bibliotheca Neerlandica Mannscripta, die central bibliographic resource 
for Middle Dutch literature, located at Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit in Leiden. 

^ I have consulted microfihn copies of manuscripts containing redactions 2 
and 3, with the exception of Am, which I used in the original. For information 
regarding other manuscripts that may also preserve this version, see n. 41 below. 

^ This manuscript is mentioned by de Bruin, Tleven ons Heren, xxiL 


Ldl Leiden, BRU MS. Ltk 318, fols. 67ra-69rb and 120va-61ra; dated 
1476, from the Birgittine nunnery in Gouda.*° Heading: "In dit 
boeck is bescreuen een deel van dat lyden ons heren ihesu cristi 
ende vanden miraculen die ghescieden in syn doot ende in syn 
verrisenisse also alst die vier ewangelisten bescriuen ende som- 
myghe puynten die in nycodemus passie staen" ("This book 
describes part of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and the 
miracles that occurred at his death and Resurrection, as the four 
gospel writers have described it, and a few details that are found 
in the passion of Nicodemus"). This manuscript is a homiliary 
and contains only the beginning and concluding portions of 
Lyden 2. The first scribe copied the beginning of the text but 
stopped after a few pages (fols. 67ra-69rb, corresponding to Gh, 
fols. lr-6r). Another scribe wrote the next section, which origi- 
nally stood at the end of the manuscript; it begins with the tract 
"O ghi alien die daer gaet biden weghe" ("Behold, all ye that 
pass by this way"; Lam. 1:12),^^ which covers the whole Pas- 
sion up to the burial of Jesus (fols. 70ra-120va), and which is 
continued with the conclusion of Lyden 2 (fols. 120va-61ra, corre- 
sponding to fols. 101r-90v of Gh). 

Dii Diisseldorf, Universitatsbibliothek MS. C 25, fols. 2ra-16vb; ca. 
1500, from Canons Regular of the Holy Cross, Marienvrede 

*° For a description of this manuscript, see G. C. Zieleman, Middelnederlandse 
Epistel- en Evangeliepreken (Leiden: Brill, 1978), 112-15. 

*' This Passion treatise, which is essentially a reworking of a tract by Hein- 
rich von St. Gallen, is found in several additional manuscripts (cf. J. Reynaert, 
Catalogus van de Middelnederlandse handschriften in de bibliotheek van de Rijksuniver- 
siteit te Gent, vol. 1, De handschriften verworven v66r 1852 [Gent: Rijksimiversiteit te 
Gent, 1984], 100 n. 175, who gives further literature): 

Berlin, Staatsbibliothek Preupischer Kulturbesitz Mgq 1397; saec. XV; 
Brussels, Biblioth^ue royale Albert P' MS. IV 177; written in 1477; 
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek MS. 220; saec. XV/2; 

Strasbourg, Biblioth^que nationale et universitaire MS. 2932 (all. 724); saec. 
XV ex. 

At least the Gent manuscript seems to include, as continuation, also a portion of 
Lyden 2. Reynaert cites a whole series of manuscripts with texts on the Passion 
related to the Gent manuscript; among them are the manuscripts of Lyden 2 (dis- 
cussed above) as well as those of the O ghi alien die daer gaet. On two of the 
manuscripts named by Reynaert, Bonn, Universitatsbibliothek MS. S 2052, and 
Haarlem, oUm Bisschoppelijk Museum MS. 101 (now Utrecht, Rijksmuseum Het 
Catharijnekonvent), I have no further information, so it is unclear to me which of 
the two texts they contain. 

Dutch and Low German Literatures 355 

monastery near Wesel.'*^ Heading: "Hijr geet aen die vpuersten- 
tenisse ons heren ihesu cristi als nycodemus beschrijft" ("Here 
begins the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, as it is de- 
scribed by Nicodemus"). The manuscript contair\s only an 
excerpt from Lyden 2 (corresponding to Gh, fols. 108v-53v), 
describing the events between the burial of Jesus and his Ascen- 
sion. The excerpt is followed by an Easter sermon (fols. 17ra- 
18vb), the account of the Descent from the Legenda aurea (fols. 
18vb-20va, entitled "CoUacie ter vesper wt nycodemus ewange- 
lium," "A sermon for vespers, from the Gospel of Nicodemus"), 
and by sermons for the days after Easter. 

Lyden 3. Only one manuscript of this version survives: 

Ld2 Leiden, BRU MS. B. P. L. 61, fols. 107ra-63ra; North-West Dutch, 
ca. 1490.^^ Heading: "Dit boec dat is vanden lyden ons heren 
ihesus cristus Ende vanden myrakelen dien hi in siin leuen dede 
Ende hoe dat hi ter hellen daelde ende hoe dat hi siin vrienden 
daer wt verloste Ende hoe dat hi verrees vander doet ende siin 
vrienden vertroestede Ende hoe dat hi den heilighen gheest 
neder sende" ("This book is about the suffering of our Lord 

_ Jesus Christ and about the miracles that he performed in his life, 
and how he descended into hell and liberated his friends from 
there, and how he rose from the dead and comforted his friends, 
and how he sent down the Holy Ghost"); incipit: "Alle die 
ghene die minne hebben totten liden ons heren te horen die 
sellen die dinghen verstaen die in desen boec ghescreuen siin" 
("All those who wish to hear about the suffering of our Lord 
should understand the things that are written in this book"). The 
Lyden is followed by the Middle Dutch translation D of the EN 
11-28, as well as by some additional New Testament apocrypha 
(the legend of Pilate and Veronica, and the Assumption of the 
Virgin, both largely based on the Legenda aurea) and an unidenti- 
fied account of the destruction of Jerusalem. 

*^ For a description of the manuscript, see Zieleman, Middelnederlandse Epistel- 
en Evangeliepreken, 116; cf. also H. Vollmer, "Das Evangelium Nicodenu in 
deutscher Prosa," Bibel und deutsche Kultur 6 (1936): 203. 

*^ This manuscript, described by Zieleman, Middelnederlandse Epistelen Evan- 
geliepreken, 49-50, and WilUams-Krapp, Die deutschen und niederlandischen Legen- 
dary 76, 92-100, 128, consists of three parts: fols. lra-104vb. South Middle Dutch 
translation of the Legenda aurea, nos. 1-50 with additional legends (no. 51 is Good 
Friday); fols. 107ra-94vb, Lyden 3, with additional texts; fols. 195ra-282va, Die 
ewangelien ende die episteln in die vasten ("The gospels and the epistles for Lent"). 


A comparison of these three versions of the Lyden with their Mid- 
dle Dutch sources, particularly with the Leven, shows that the printed 
redaction, Lyden 1, is closest to the original text, whereas Lyden 2 and 
3 expand it considerably. Both longer versions derive from a common 
earlier source, as is clear from their common secondary variations, 
additions, and transpositions, as well as from their almost identical 
incipits. However, the two differ substantially in specific detail. Lyden 
2 expands the text with more or less extensive additions, including 
some long interpolations (Gh, fols. 24r-44r, the Bethany scene and the 
Last Supper) from Heinrich von St. Gallen's Passion tract Extendit 
manum.^ Version 3 is a rather free revision of the Lyden; it inserts into 
the events preceding the Passion large chunks of the canonical gospels, 
such as a translation of John 5-11 (with the legend of the cross added 
after Jn. 5:4) at the outset of the narrative. It also omits some episodes 
from the EN with a comment that they can be found more accurately 
related in the translation of the apocryphon at the end of the manu- 

It is impossible to be definitive about the time or place of the 
Lyden's origin. What is certain, however, is that this Passion text was 
not prepared especially for printing because some manuscripts that 
belong to the derivative version 2 antedate the first printed edition 
(Gheraert Leeu, Gouda 1477). The Lyden may have stemmed from the 
circles of the devotio moderna, for its main source, the Leven, received 
considerable attention there.*^ The most likely place of its origin is the 
northwestern part of the Netherlands. 

4. The reception of the Evangelium Nicodemi in 
Middle Dutch prose 

The preceding discussion has shown that translations of the EN are fre- 
quently found among the texts on the Passion and that the EN was 
used primarily to supplement the canonical information concerning the 
Passion of Christ. In addition, some Passion texts have absorbed cer- 
tain themes from the EN. Two works widely used in the fifteenth 
century in the Netherlands illustrate this phenomenon. In the Pseudo- 
Bonaventura-Ludolfiaanse Leven van Jesus, ca. 1400,^ 

** Kurt Ruh, "Der Passionstraktat des Heinrich von St. Gallen," vol. 1 (Ph.D. 
diss., Zurich, 1940), 4.4-30.29. 

*^ The reception of the Leven is discussed by C. C. de Bruin, "Middeleeuwse 
Levens Vcin Jesus als leidraad voor meditatie en contemplacie IE," Nederlandsch 
Archief vor Kerkgeschiedenis 63 (1983): 144-45. 

*^ Edited by de Bruin, Tleven ons Heren. 

Dutch and Low German Literatures 357 

Latin text based on Ludolph of Saxony's Vita Jesu Christi and pseudo- 
Bonaventure's Meditationes vitae Christi, the EN is cited as a source for 
the account of the release of Joseph of Arimathea: "Hoe hi Joseph 
openbaerde, is ghescreven in Nycodemus ewangelie" (chap. 51; "How 
he appeared to Joseph is related in the Gospel of Nicodemus"; the 
actual account occurs in chap. 41). Similarly, the report on the libera- 
tion of the patriarchs from hell and the mention of Enoch and Elijah 
(chap. 36) echo the EN. In the translation of the Articuli LXV de passione 
Domini of Jordanus of Quedlinburg, preserved in over twenty Middle 
Dutch manuscripts, the EN is cited as a source seven times.^ Details 
from the EN can also be found in the Passie Jhesu, a compilation of 
older Passion texts edited by Indestege from a Limburg manuscript 
dated 1575.^ This treatise briefly mentions, in connection with the 
trial before Pilate, those healed by Jesus, who weep during the trial 
and attempt to help their healer (41.7-12, based on EN 4.5 and 6). It 
also contains a heavily abbreviated account, taken from the EN, of the 
soul of Christ freeing the prophets from limbo after his death on the 
cross (73.1-74.27).'*' 

The substance of the EN was also partially transmitted through 
translations of Jacobus a Voragine's Legenda aurea, whose cha