Apocryphal literature

Apocryphal literature.Works about events and figures in religious history that were never officially recognized by the Christian church or accepted into the canon of the Holy Scriptures and thus are regarded as false or heretical. Apocryphal literature elaborates on events that are not mentioned or are mentioned only in passing in the Scriptures. The legends and oral traditions that grew up around the apocrypha often contradicted the teachings of the church. Heretics attempted to lend credibility to the apocrypha by attributing their authorship to the apostles or church fathers. References in literary monuments indicate that the apocrypha, together with lists of forbidden works (indexes), were known in Ukraine by the 11th century. The apocrypha, as well as other early works of translated literature, reached Ukraine from Byzantium and the Holy Land via Bulgaria and were spread by means of oral and written communication. During the 17th and 18th centuries apocryphal literature was replenished by new translations and legends of Western origin.

Apocryphal literature may be divided into several categories. Old Testament apocrypha include stories describing genesis, Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Abraham, Moses, numerous tales about Solomon, and the so-called Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. New Testament apocrypha—the so-called gospels of Khoma (Thomas), Yakiv (Jacob), Nicodemus, and others—include tales of Christ's childhood, his trial and sufferings (the Passion), his journey to hell, and, also, of Virgin Mary and the apostles. Apocryphal lives of the saints (Mykyta, Yurii, Iryna, Fedir, etc) emerged alongside the officially recognized hagiography. The category of eschatological apocrypha (depicting the end of the world and life after death) includes perhaps the most popular Ukrainian apocryphal tale, ‘Khozhdeniie Bohorodytsi po mukakh’ (The Mother of God's Journey through the Tortures).

Apocryphal motifs and plots were often incorporated into folk oral literature, particularly into folk tales and religious poems. Iconography has, similarly, adopted some apocryphal themes. Motifs derived from the apocrypha are found in the original Ukrainian literature of the Princely era (chronicles, lives of saints, oratorical works, the pilgrimage of Hegumen Danylo, etc), and in works of the 17th and18th centuries (sermons, hagiographic stories, dramas, religious songs, and the Slovo o zburenniu pekla [The Tale of the Harrowing of Hell]). In 19th-century literature, the apocryphal tradition is reflected in the description of hell in Ivan Kotliarevsky's Eneïda (Aeneid) and in Baiky svitoviï v spivakh (Fables of the World in Songs) and Baiky svitoviï v opovidkakh (Fables of the World in Stories). The apocryphal tradition in Ukraine and its influences on Ukrainian literature were studied by Volodymyr Peretts, Mykola Sumtsov, Mykola I. Petrov, Mykola Gudzii, and others. Ivan Franko in particular devoted much attention to the collection and research of apocrypha, compiling the finest existing collection of Ukrainian apocryphal works, ‘Apokryfy i legendy z ukraïns'kykh rukopysiv’ (Apocrypha and Legends from Ukrainian Manuscripts), in Pamiatky ukrains'koï movy i literatury (Monuments of Ukrainian Language and Literature, vols 1–5, Lviv 1896–1910).Mykola Hlobenko

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]




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