The Apocryphon of James

The Apocryphon of James

Not to be confused with Gospel of James

THE APOCRYPHON OF JAMES, also known by the translation of its title – the Secret Book of James, is a pseudonymous text amongst the New Testament apocrypha. It describes the secret teachings of Jesus to Peter and James, given after the Resurrection but before the Ascension.

A major theme is that one must accept suffering as inevitable. The prominence of James and Peter suggest that the work originated in the Hebrew Christian community. It shows no dependence on canonical texts, and was probably written in the first half of the 2nd century. It has Gnostic affinities but cannot be attributed to any Gnostic sect, and some scholars rule that it is not Gnostic at all.


The text survives in a single, damaged manuscript as the second section of the Jung Codex, first of the thirteen codices in the Nag Hammadi library. Although the text appears to be a Coptic translation from Greek, the author claims to have written in Hebrew. Because of references to persecution and martyrdom, it is unlikely that the text was written after 313, when Constantine I ended Christian persecution. Other clues in the text point to a composition in the 2nd century, and perhaps in the first half.

The text is framed as an epistle (i.e. a letter) from James to someone else whose name is obscured by the damage to the text. The author describes Jesus expanding on various sayings and answering questions 550 days after the Resurrection, but before the Ascension.

Both James and Peter are given secret instruction, but at the end only James appears to understand what has happened. (As with the Gospel of John 1-20 and the Gospel of Mary, in this book Peter has implicitly failed the Christian movement).