Acts of Philip

The Greek Acts of Philip (Acta Philippi) is an unorthodox episodic apocryphal book of acts from the mid-to-late fourth century,[1] originally in fifteen separate acta,[2] that gives an accounting of the miraculous acts performed by the Apostle Philip, with overtones of the heroic romance.

Courtyard of the Xenophontos monastery on Mount Athos where the complete text of the Acts of Philip was discovered


Some of these episodes are identifiable as belonging to more closely related "cycles".[3] Two episodes recounting events of Philip's commission (3 and 8) have survived in both shorter and longer versions. There is no commission narrative in the surviving texts: Philip's authority rests on the prayers and benediction of Peter and John and is explicitly bolstered by a divine epiphany, in which the voice of Jesus urges "Hurry Philip! Behold, my angel is with you, do not neglect your task" and "Jesus is secretly walking with him".(ch. 3).

The Acts of Philip is most completely represented by a text[4] discovered in 1974 by François Bovon and Bertrand Bouvier in the library of Xenophontos monastery on Mount Athos in Greece.[5] The manuscript dates from the fourteenth century but its language identifies it as a copy of a fourth-century original.[5] Many of the narratives in the manuscript were already known from other sources, but some were hitherto unknown.[6] The narrative recounts that Jesus sent out a group of followers to spread his message. The followers were Philip, Bartholomew, and— a leading figure in the second half of the text— a woman named Mariamne, who is identified in the text as Philip's sister, and who Bovon at first suggested may be identical to Mary Magdalene.[5] However, following the Discovery Channel's popularized speculations in The Lost Tomb of Jesus, Bovon publicly distanced himself from its claims, withdrawing his published assertion (Bovon 2002) that the Mariamne of the Talpiot tomb discussed in The Lost Tomb of Jesus is the same person,[7] writing in an open letter to the Society of Biblical Literature:

the Mariamne of the Acts of Philip is part of the apostolic team with Philip and Bartholomew; she teaches and baptizes: Philip baptizes men, Mary baptizes women. In the beginning, her faith is stronger than Philip's faith. This portrayal of Mariamne fits very well with the portrayal of Mary of Magdala in the Manichean Psalms, the Gospel of Mary, and Pistis Sophia. My interest is not historical, but on the level of literary traditions. I have suggested this identification in 1984 already in an article of New Testament Studies.[8]

The text discovered by Bovon also described a community that practised vegetarianism and celibacy.[5] Women in the community wore men's clothes and held positions of authority comparable to men, serving as priests and deacons.[5] The community used a form of the eucharist where vegetables and water were consumed in place of bread and wine.[9] Among lesser miraculous accomplishments of the group were the conversion of a talking leopard and a talking goat,[5] as well as the slaying of a dragon.[10] "Speaking animals as helpers of the apostles are familiar figures in the apostolic Acts" (Czachesz 2002).

New translations of the full text as discovered by Bovon have been published in French, 1996, and in English in 2012. Previous English translations, such as that in M.R. James, are based on the collections of fragments that were known previous to Bovon's discovery.


  1. ^ Late fourth century is François Bovon's dating (Bovon, "Actes de Philippe") and Amsler's; mid-fourth century in an encratite circle is De Santeros Otero's dating;
  2. ^ "it is divided into separate Acts, of which the manuscripts mention fifteen: we have Acts i–ix and from xv to the end, including the Martyrdom, which last, as usual, was current separately and exists in many recensions." (M.R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press), 1924. on-line text Archived 2007-09-26 at the Wayback Machine); the discrete origins of the individual acta in the text as formerly known is recognized by James: "The first Act cannot have begun so abruptly as it now does. The second is equally abrupt in its introduction. The third is linked to it by the mention of Parthia, but there is great inconsequence in it, for it presupposes that Philip has done nothing as yet. The fourth is linked to the third by the scene, Azotus. The fifth, sixth, and seventh, at Niatera, are wholly detached from what has gone before, and with the ninth we make a fresh start".
  3. ^ István Czachesz, Apostolic Commission Narratives in the Canonical and Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. (University of Groningen dissertation, 2002) " 6: The Acts of Philip", pp 136ff (pdf file) Archived 2011-05-20 at the Wayback Machine links chapters 1–2, 3–7, 8–14 and the martyrdom narrative of 15.
  4. ^ Published by François Bovon, Bertrand Bouvier and Frédéric Amsler, ''Acta Philippi: Textus vol. I Textus, vol. II Commentarius; in series Corpus christianorum apocryphorum 11–12 (Turnhout: Brepols) 1999.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Peter H. Desmond, "Fourth-Century Church Tales: Women priests, vegetarians, and summer dresses", Harvard Magazine (May-June 2000) on-line edition Archived 2007-03-19 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Archived 2007-04-17 at the Wayback Machine, "A complete collection of several already-known single Acts, Bovon's discovery filled in the blanks existing in previously-published translations of the Acts of Philip"
  7. ^ "I do not believe that Mariamne is the real name of Mary of Magdalene. Mariamne is, besides Maria or Mariam, a possible Greek equivalent, attested by Josephus, Origen, and the Acts of Philip, for the Semitic Myriam." (Bovon's letter to the Society of Biblical Literature).
  8. ^ Bovon's letter to the Society of Biblical Literature Archived 2007-07-01 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Women Priests, Vegetarianism - An Early Christian Manuscript Holds Some Surprises Archived 2007-03-07 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Gospel of Philip Archived 2007-09-26 at the Wayback Machine.


  • Bovon, F., B. Bouvier, F. Amsler, Acta Philippi: Textus (Turnhout, 1999) (Corpus Christianorum, 11).
  • Amsler, F. Acta Philippi: Commentarius (Turnhout, 1999) (Corpus Christianorum, 12).
  • F. Amsler et A. Frey (еdd), Concordantia Actorum Philippi (Turnhout, 2002) (Instruments pour l’étude des langues de l’Orient ancien, 4).


  • F. Bovon, B. Bouvier, F. Amsler, Actes de l'apôtre Philippe: Introduction, notes et traductions, Turnhout: Brepols 1996 (= Apocryphes. Collection de poche de l'AELAC 8). ISBN 978-2-503-50422-3.
  • François Bovon and Christopher R. Matthews, The Acts of Philip: a new translation, Baylor University Press, 2012. ISBN 9781602586550.


  • De Santos Otero, "Acta Philippi," in W. Schneemelcher (ed), New Testament Apocrypha. vol. II (Writings Related to the Apostles, Apocalypses and Related Subjects) (Cambridge-Louisville, 1992), 468–473.
  • Bovon, F., B. Bouvier, F. Amsler, Actes de l'apôtre Philippe (Tournhout, 1996) (Apocryphes, 8).
  • Bovon, F., "Mary Magdalene in the Acts of Philip", in F. Stanley Jones (ed.), Which Mary? (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature) 2002, 75–89.
  • Bovon, F. "Women Priestesses in the Apocryphal Acts of Philip," in S. Matthews, C. Briggs Kittredge and M. Johnson-DeBaufre (eds), Walk in the Ways of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (Harrisburg, 2003), 109–121.

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