Gospel of Nicodemus

The Gospel of Nicodemus, also known as[1] the Acts of Pilate (Latin: Acta Pilati; Greek: Πράξεις Πιλάτου), is an apocryphal gospel claimed to have been derived from an original Hebrew work written by Nicodemus, who appears in the Gospel of John as an associate of Jesus. The title The Gospel of Nicodemus is medieval in origin.[2] The dates of its accreted sections are uncertain, but scholars agree in assigning the resulting work to the middle of the fourth century AD.[3]

The section about Pilate is an older text found in the Greek Acts of Peter and Paul and is a purported official document from Pontius Pilate (or composed from reports at the praetorium at Jerusalem) reporting events in Judea to Emperor Tiberius, and referring to the crucifixion of Jesus, as well as his miracles.[4]

History and authenticity

The oldest sections of the book appear first in Greek. The text contains multiple parts, which are uneven in style and would seem to be by different hands. The Acts of Pilate does not purport to have been written by Pilate (thus is not pseudepigraphical), but does claim to have been derived from the official acts preserved in the praetorium at Jerusalem.

The authenticity of the document is unlikely and there is no historical basis that Roman governors wrote reports about non-citizens who were put to death.[5] Most modern scholars view the Acts of Pilate as not authentic and as a Christian composition designed to rebut pagan sources.[4]

Core texts

The main body of the Gospel of Nicodemus is in two sections, with an appendix, Descensus ad Infernosthe Harrowing of Helland is found to be a later addition to some versions including Greek and Latin. The first (chapters ixi) contains the trial of Jesus based upon Luke 23. In addition to the Greek and Latin witnesses of the first part, there are three other notable ancient versions including Syriac or Aramaic (also known as Hebrew in the 1st century), Armenian, and Coptic.[6] The second part (xiixvi) concerns the Resurrection. In it, Leucius and Charinus, the two souls raised from the dead after the Crucifixion, relate to the Sanhedrin the circumstances of the descent of Christ to Limbo. A literature of miracle-tale romance developed around a conflated "Leucius Charinus" as an author of further texts. The Harrowing of Hell episode depicts St Dismas accompanying Christ in Hell, and the deliverance of the righteous Old Testament patriarchs.

An appended text purports to be a written report made by Pontius Pilate to Claudius, containing a description of the crucifixion, as well as an account of the resurrection of Jesus; both are presented as if in an official report.[7] One series of Latin manuscripts includes as an appendix or continuation, the episode Cura Sanitatis Tiberii ("The Cure of Tiberius"), the oldest form of the Veronica legend, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, in which Emperor Tiberius is cured of his malady. (Compare the legend of the Image of Edessa.)

Dating and readership

The Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (writing c. 325), shows no acquaintance with this work, although he was aware of "Letters of Pilate" referred to by Justin and Tertullian. He was also aware of an anti-Christian text called Acts of Pilate, which was prescribed for reading in schools under the emperor Maximinus during the Diocletianic Persecution.[8] "We are forced to admit that [the Christian Acts of Pilate] is of later origin, and scholars agree in assigning it to the middle of the fourth century."[3] Epiphanius refers to an Acta Pilati (c. 376), but the extant Greek texts show evidence of later editing.

Though the Acta Pilati purports to be a report by Pontius Pilate containing evidence of Jesus Christ's messiahship and godhead (the term is explained here), there is no record in early Christian lore of Pilate's conversion to Christianity.

Justin Martyr wrote, "And that these things did happen, you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate."[9] The Apology letters were written and addressed by name to the Roman Emperor Pius and the Roman Governor Urbicus. All three of these men lived between 138161 AD.

The Acta Pilati have had a long history inspiring devotional works. A Meditatione sopra la Passione del nostro signore Iesu Christo, drawing in part on Acta Pilati for its expanded anecdotal elements in the Passion, was printed twenty-eight times in Italy between about 1476 and 1500, and inspired the depiction of Christ before Pilate by Pontormo.[10]

Naming of New Testament figures

The Gospel of Nicodemus names several minor New Testament figures who were not named in the canonical texts; for example, the soldier who speared Jesus on the cross is named as Longinus and the two criminals crucified beside Jesus are named as Dimas and Gestas, as well as many others.


  1. Ehrman and Pleše 2011 : 406.
  2. "Acta Pilati (Or the Gospel of Nicodemus)." The Catholic Encyclopedia.
  3. 1 2  Reid, George (1913). "Acta Pilati". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  4. 1 2 New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1 by Wilhelm Schneemelcher and R. Mcl. Wilson (Dec 1, 1990) ISBN 066422721X pages 501-502
  5. Van Voorst, Robert E. (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 page 51
  6. THE GOSPEL OF NICODEMUS, OR ACTS OF PILATE - Introduction, Tischendorf in his Evangelia Apocrypha
  7. Report of Pilate
  8. Edgar Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha (1963 ed.) vol. 1 p. 445.
  9. The First and Second Apology of Justin, Chapter 35
  10. Laura M. Giles, "Christ before Pilate: a major composition study by Pontormo", Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 17.1 (1991:34-51).

Cited works

External links

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