Howard Ingham: Unholy Writ

February 2001
The I-Spy guide to apocryphal stuff
Previous Unholy Writs

Comment on this column IN THE LAST few months, it's become clear to us at Ship of Fools that a lot of people really have no idea what to expect from a really good piece of apocryphal literature. Well, Unholy Writ, as ever reluctant to disappoint its public, produces at great expense the handy Unholy Writ Cut Out and Keep (get an adult to help you) I-Spy guide to Apocryphal Christian Literature.

If you're not familiar with the format, this how an I-Spy guide works. It's simply a list of things you can expect to find in the Apocryphal New Testament and the books that come after it – and to make it a bit more fun, it awards points for each time you spot one of these hackneyed twists and turns in the plot.

I'll give you a moment to go scurrying for your own copy of the New Testament Apocrypha. Right. Now we can begin...

HORRIBLE AND GRAPHIC DEATHS (5 points): The good guys always win, right? Well, yes, but they tend to die horrible and graphic deaths first. All the time. Crucified upside down, beheaded, barbecued, blinded, fed to the wild beasts, caught by cannibals, the lot, and all retold in exquisitely gory detail. But they've all got a place in heaven, so that's OK.

GOD TALKS DIRECTLY TO EVERYONE (10 points): And you thought that the old bass baritone from heaven (accompained by the obligatory shining light) was an invention of Hollywood. But no! God can be pretty talkative when he wants to be, whether he's explaining to the people of Nazareth why the Virgin Mary is so special, or telling Pontius Pilate that he's an OK chap after all.

FRIENDLY LIONS (15 points): You all know about Androcles and the thorn-in-the-foot incident, but did you know that Christians and lions have a long-standing amicable relationship? Whether burying the dead, showing someone where to go next or disputing theology with sundry saints, lions are usually the goodies. Except when they're a bit peckish, obviously.

TALKING STATUES (20 points): Yep, they may be just made of stone, but boy, are they loquacious. Marvel as the statues in the Roman Senate tell the nasty old Romans exactly what they think of them! Gasp as the sphinx in the Egyptian temple explains to Jesus that it isn't really a sphinx (because there's no such thing, silly) but actually a statue of an angel!

SIMON MAGUS MAKES A PEST OF HIMSELF (25 Points): You may have heard of Simon the Sorceror: he pops up in Acts, appears to become a Christian, and then disappears. If only that was the end of it. In the apocryphal books, Simon returns to his wicked ways and makes life difficult for any of the apostles he meets. The ultimate New Testament era baddie: if there's mischief afoot (or a long, boring discussion where someone's having a go at the disciples), Simon's at the root of it.

RANDOM MIRACLES (30 points): At least the feeding of the 5,000 had a point. But in the apocrypha, be prepared to be dazzled at the magical and mysterious miracles performed for, well, no reason at all. Levitation? People's hands dropping off? Magic water? Magic shirts? Talking animals? Talking plants? Talking inanimate objects? They're all here. No, really.

REALLY OBVIOUS ANACHRONISMS (35 points): The easiest way you can tell when a book is made up is when the history's just not right. Mary wants to be a nun, when nuns won't be invented for 300 years. The Emperor Vespasian hears about the death of Jesus and sacks Jerusalem because of it (the two events are over 40 years apart).

THE DEVIL GETS HIS DUE (40 points): The Devil's due being, in this case, hideous violence. He may be the prince of darkness, but judging by the number of times he gets beaten up by various characters in the apocryphal books, he's absolutely no good in a fight. At one point, even Jesus himself has a go, when he descends to Hell and gives Satan a jolly good kicking (more about that in a couple of months' time).

THE ROMANS ARE THE GOOD GUYS (45 points): No, they are. No, really. They get so annoyed about the death of Christ they go and sack Jerusalem and give those nasty old Jews what for. Of course that's the reason why the Roman sacked Jerusalem. Nothing at all to do with rebellions and people getting killed and stuff. Nope. Not at all. No sir.

JESUS GETS MEDIEVAL (50 points): Gentle Jesus, meek and mild? Not here, he isn't. In the apocrypha, he's the wrath of God, he is. Remember Unholy Writ number 1? He was smiting people all over the place, and that was just when he was a kid. Imagine what he's like when he grows up...

There you have it. A whistle-stop tour throught the apocrypha. Send us your best scores, and you won't win a prize, but you might get a mention in print...

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