Howard Ingham: Unholy Writ

March 2001
In the City of the Cannibals
Previous Unholy Writs

Comment on this column YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED in our series of apocryphal stories a slight tendency to what could perhaps be described as the somewhat far-fetched. Well, I'd just like to say that they're not all like that. Some of the apocryphal gospels and acts are believable, well-written, well-intentioned and life affirming.

This month's story, The Acts of Matthias and Andrew in the City of the Cannibals, is none of these things. In fact, this one has it all, being possibly the single most extreme piece of literature produced in the New Testament era. And as I'm sure you'll have gathered by now, that's really saying something.

OUR STORY BEGINS with the apostles splitting up and heading to different parts of the world. They draw lots for their different mission fields, and Matthias (who you may remember was Judas Iscariot's replacement and, well, nothing else, actually) gets to go to cannibal country.

Bravely ignoring the fact that there is no such place, Matthias enters Cannibal City. Alone. There he receives the normal brand of cannibal hospitality: they put his eyes out, give him a special drug to keep him docile, then throw him into prison where they can fatten him up before eating him.

But wait! Matthias is unaffected by the cannibals' noxious drug. He prays, and God answers his prayer (with a voice coming out of a shaft of light, of course), gives him his eyes back and tells him to wait in prison to be rescued.

Three days before Matthias is due to become lunch, Christ appears to Andrew, who is far away and tells him to go and rescue Matthias, and that he's got three days to do it. Andrew, understandably, bridles at this, Cannibal City being about a month's journey away. Still, he does what he's told and heads for the harbour.

Imagine, if you will, Andrew trying to get a boat:

"Hello. I'm looking for passage to the most dangerous city in the world, which happens to be a really long way away, except God told me I have to make it in three days, and I haven't got anything to pay you with, and I don't have any food either, so you'll have to feed me, too. Is that OK?"

Andrew tries this tack at the harbour with the first boatman he can find, and the boatman says, "fine".

Of course, this is no ordinary boatman. It is in fact Jesus in disguise with a crew of cunningly concealed angels. The boat sets sail. And gets to the city of the cannibals very, very quickly.

MEANWHILE, MATTHIAS, who's been keeping his eyes closed so the cannibals don't know he can see, has converted all the prisoners to Christianity. When Andrew arrives, he walks into the prison, heals all of the blinded prisoners and sets them free, leading them out through the middle of the town.

A horde of vicious and angry cannibals come after them, but before they can touch the apostles, Andrew prays and the cannibal's hands all turn to stone and they drop their knives. And so, the apostles escape.

The cannibals, without a food source, decide to eat their own, and one old man offers up children as food, but Andrew gets wind of this and re-enters the city. Another well-timed prayer, and the cannibal executioners find that their knife handles get very slippery all of a sudden, with the result that no executions happen.

At this point, the Devil himself appears, in order to equalise things. Although Andrew faces him off, he's overpowered by an angry mob and dragged through the city streets by a noose around his neck. After a whole day of being dragged around, Andrew is thrown into prison, with the assurance that they'll do the same thing again tomorrow.

Which they do.

But the cavalry arrives! Jesus appears again, helps Andrew escape from prison, and takes him to the town square. Andrew prays over the statue in the middle of town, which opens its mouth, out of which gushes a flood of corrosive and deadly acid. At the same time, a cloud of fire descends from heaven.

Literally up to their necks in hydrochloric acid, the cannibals decide to repent, and the floods go down and the clouds of fire go up.

Andrew orders all the bodies of the people who died to be brought to him. The cannibals say no, because there are too many dead people to carry, but that's OK, because Andrew brings them all back to life anyway.

All of the cannibals give up their wicked ways and convert to Christianity. The ex-cannibals build a church, and all of their sins are forgiven – all of them, that is, except for the old man who offered his kids up as food, who gets dragged screaming down to hell by a horde of demons.

SO MUCH FOR THE Acts of Andrew and Matthias in the City of the Cannibals. No other story is anywhere near as bizarre as this one. And yet, of all the stories in the Apocryphal New Testament, this one is the most like a brainless big-budget blockbuster, with its improbable plot devices, disappearing characters (what did happen, exactly, to Matthias after Andrew rescued him?) and lavish special effects.

All we need now is Jesus doing kung-fu – which we'll come to next month...

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