Book Series Brepols Library of Christian Sources, vol. 3

The Protevangelium of James

Critical edition, with translation and commentary

J. Keith Elliott, Patricia M. Rumsey

  • Pages: 126 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:2 tables b/w.
  • Language(s):English, Greek
  • Publication Year:2022

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59314-2
  • Paperback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59315-9
  • E-book
  • Available

The Greek text with an English translation and a new commentary on the most important apocryphon, the Protevangelium Iacobi or 'Protogospel of James'.


This Protevangelium of James is the second-century document that very few have read, but its contents are an assumed part of Christian memory in all the churches: east and west. We know who Joachim and Anna were - the parents of Mary: 'information' from it. Many still celebrate several feasts - such as Mary's presentation in the temple - that are based upon it. We are familiar with many elements of the Christmas story that are first told within it. Theologians discuss aspects of the theology of Mary, aeiparthenos, whose historical basis is this text. Many contemporary Christians find this a repulsive document seeing it, inter alia, as providing a basis for the subordination of women within the churches, but there is no substitute for having the actual text before you in assessing these statements. Here we have a new edition with a new English translation which has been specially prepared to facilitate a critical awareness of how this apocryphon has had a unique (if usually unacknowledged) impact on Christian tradition. 

Professor Thomas O'Loughlin, Series Director


J.K. Elliott is Professor Emeritus of New Testament Textual Criticism at the University of Leeds, UK and is Editor of The Apocryphal New Testament, published in 1993 by the Clarendon Press, Oxford.

The abbess of a Poor Clare monastery with a PhD in liturgical theology, Patricia Rumsey uses liturgical evidence to evaluate the influence of the Protevangelium of James on the place of women in the early Christian world which influence has persisted through the centuries and is still operative today. She is an honorary associate professor at Nottingham University.


As a prehistory to the Nativity accounts of the gospels of Matthew and Luke the Protevangelium of James, dated to the second half of the second century, aimed to fill in alleged gaps in the canonical accounts of Jesus' and his mother's ancestry and births. Thus, it describes the birth of Mary, the mother of Christ, the Annunciation, the Nativity and the death of Zachariah, the high priest and father of John the Baptist.

The edition of the original Greek text has an English version on its facing pages. There are also editorial notes to enable all interested parties to benefit from reading this important and influential text.

The commentary pays particular attention to the early liturgical use of the Protevangelium and to artistic representations of the scenes it describes as these were the main means by which this highly influential text was transmitted throughout the known world. It also questions the usually accepted genre and purpose of the text and suggests that its author may have had a satirical intention or have intended it as an early Christian novelette, using scriptural scenes and themes as his inspiration. Maybe we have approached the Protevangelium of James with solemn faces and have been prepared to carry out serious theological investigations, whereas the many inconsistencies and glaring contradictions so obvious as to be ridiculous might suggest the author's intentions were not quite so grave or weighty.