Has anyone found anything particularly illuminating from non-canonical books? They often contradict Biblical books in details, but I always liked them for the way you get a slightly different perspective on the stories that are otherwise so well-known it’s hard to really think about them in new ways. Has anyone else found these “less official” writings helpful in their understanding of the Bible?
I would stay away from most of them because a lot of them are from the heresy of Gnosticism. That said, the Infancy Gospel of James is supposed to be pretty good but its not sacred Scripture and not guaranteed to be theologically correct.
I think it’s from the pseudepigraphic Acts of Peter and Paul that we get the Quo Vadis story that is now part of the hagiography of St. Peter. That story, at least, has been inspiring to hundreds of thousands of Catholics through the centuries.
There was a time when it was harmless to read those other writings. In 1960 Christians, and non-Christians, knew what the Bible is, and what it isn’t. Hollywood was making movies like “Quo Vadis.” Any group that tried to add or subtract books to the NT was labelled a cult.
This is not the world we live in today. The secular culture is not inclined to borrow ideas from non-canonical books to help inspire those who are committed to the actual Scriptures,or to evangelize people to the Church. The secular culture gives increasing attention to those books in order to dilute the impact of the real ones. Some New Testaments are being printed now with those other gospels inter mingled with the 4 “traditional” ones. In a decade, you will have different Protestant denominations, congregations, or individuals choosing their own canons. You may hear some say “the Gospel of Mathew may be inspired for you, but not for me; I am inspired by the Gospel of Mary. I also have added these other epistles that empower women, but no longer have room for some of Paul’s writings”.
So, unless you are a really mature saint and scholar, flirting with those other books isn’t harmless anymore. Trust me, they won’t - nowadays - lead you to Quo Vadis.
There is a $275 set of books being published by the Jewish Publication Society which contains a lot of other Jewish writings which, they say, help clarify the understanding of the canonical works.
That’s too much money for me right now to buy into these books. The description of the books seems to be as much marketing as much as anything else. So, I can’t tell the value of these works. If I had my hands on them, I’d look for the deuterocanonical books that Catholics include in our Bible, to see if they “made” their list. (Jewish writings have intentionally downplayed anything that would support the ideas of Christianity, so I wouldn’t expect intellectual integrity in these works, either. I think this is what has kept my dollars on the sidelines, with respect to purchasing them. They may market the books as useful for Jews and others, but I suspect only for others in the sense of promoting the Jewish storyline.)