Vita et miracula Iohannis Baptistae, auctore Pseudo-Serapione Thmuitano
Standard abbreviation: Life Bapt. Serap.
Other titles: none
Clavis numbers: CANT 183
Compiled by: Slavomír Čéplö (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Citing this resource (using Chicago Manual of Style): Čéplö, Slavomír. “The Life of John the Baptist by Serapion.” e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR. http://www.nasscal.com/e-clavis-christian-apocrypha/life-of-john-the-baptist-by-serapion/.
Posted January, 2016.
The story is told through the voice of the bishop Serapion, an Egyptian bishop of the fourth century, on the occasion of the Coptic feast day of John the Baptist (2nd of Tūt). It begins with a harmony of details about John’s birth taken from the Gospel of Luke and the Protevangelium of James, finishing with the death of Zechariah and Elizabeth fleeing from Herod’s soldiers into the desert. After five years, when John is seven years and six months old, Elizabeth dies, portentously on the same day as Herod the Great. Jesus, “whose eyes sees heaven and earth” (7:3), sees John grieving and spirits himself and Mary to the desert on a cloud. They bury Elizabeth and then Jesus and Mary remain with John for seven days, teaching him how to live in the desert. Then Mary and Jesus return to Nazareth, leaving John under the protection of Gabriel and watched by the souls of his parents. The text then shifts to John’s adult career and the story of Herod Antipas and his affair with Philip’s wife Herodias. The gospel account is expanded with two versions of a prologue: the first one recounts an incident where John’s disembodied voice haunts Herod and Herodias in their bedchamber. The other, longer, prologue reveals that Herodias and Herod worked together to obtain Philip’s land and then Herodias and her daughter left Philip to join Herod in Judea where he lived daily with both of them in adultery. Thanks to Herodias’s scheming, John is arrested and beheaded. Herodias wishes to defile the head of the Baptist, but to her surprise it flies up into the air and continues its criticism of Herod in the skies, first of Jerusalem and then throughout the world, for fifteen years. The head lands in the town of Homs (Emesa), where it is buried by the townspeople and a church is built upon the spot. Herodias, her daughter, and Herod all meet grisly ends, thus allowing John’s disciples to take his body (recalling Mark 6:29 and Matt 14:12) and bury it in Sebaste, near the body of the prophet Elisha. During the persecutions of Christians by Roman Emperor Julian, the remains are carried off to Alexandria, where Serapion, the author of the text, takes part in the consecration of a Church that the patriarch of Alexandria built to house John’s remains.
3.1 Manuscripts and Editions
The original text is likely Coptic, but the text is extant in at least 10 Garšūnī (i.e. Arabic in Syriac script) manuscripts:
A Edgbaston, University of Birmingham, Mingana Syr. 22, fols. 29r–46r (1527)
B Edgbaston, University of Birmingham, Mingana Syr. 367, fols. 144v–173v (1550)
C Edgbaston, University of Birmingham, Mingana Syr. 369, fols. 142r–149v (1481)
D Vatican, Biblioteca apostolica, Sbath 125, no foliation (1440)
E Mardin, Za‘faran Monastery, 207, fols. 20v–26r (19th/20th cent.)
F Mardin, Church of the Forty Martyrs 304, pp. 14–93 (16th cent.)
G Diyarbakir, Meryem Ana Syriac Orthodox Church, 134, fols. 41r–55v (18th/19th cent.)
H Aleppo, Syriac Catholic Archbishopric, 9/30, fols. 83r–107v (1825)
P Edgbaston, University of Birmingham, Mingana Syr. 183, fols. 53v–72v (1746)
Mingana, Alphonse. “A New Life of John the Baptist.” Pages 138-45 in Woodbrooke Studies: Christian Documents in Syriac, Arabic, and Garshuni. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927 (edition based on A and P).
3.2 Modern Translations
Čéplö, Slavomir. “The Life of John the Baptist by Serapion.” Pages 262–92 in vol. 1 of New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016 (translation based on C and D).
Schneider, Gerhard. Apokryphe Kindheitsevangelien. New York: Herder, 1995 (excerpt of Mingana’s English translation divided into chapters with German translation on facing pages, pp. 286–305; introduction pp. 73–76, 90–91).
3.3 General Works
Burke, Tony. “The New Testament and Other Early Christian Traditions in Serapion’s Life of John the Baptist.” Pages 281–300 in Christian Apocrypha. Receptions of the New Testament in Ancient Christian Apocrypha. Edited by Jean-Michel Roessli and Tobias Nicklas. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014.