Apocrypha for Beginners in Process

[This is another entry in a series of posts as gear up for the publication of my new book, Apocrypha for Beginners, an introduction to biblical apocrypha for general audiences. Check out all of the posts in this series here.]

I haven’t written any of my books in sequential order. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything I’ve published in sequential order. I’ve found that, for my process, it’s best to start somewhere in the middle.

My first book (Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England) began its life as a graduate seminar paper about apocalyptic literature; that paper became the last chapter of my dissertation, and while revising it into the published book I dropped the apocalyptic chapter. The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Nativity of Mary began as I started translating passages of Pseudo-Matthew when I worked on my dissertation; later, I was invited to translate the full work (and a few related pieces) and include commentary and introductions. With both books, I started somewhere and worked outward.

I also started writing Apocrypha for Beginners in the middle.

When the publisher reached out to me, the editorial team wanted me to submit some sample writing. They asked me to write a few of the sections about specific apocrypha that would be included in the book. I wrote and sent them sections on Judith (part of chapter 2, “The Second Canon”) and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (part of chapter 5, “Other Gospels”). Once we sorted out the details with the contract and outline, I started to draft other sections of the chapter on “The Second Canon,” which features the deuterocanonical books (see this post for more on them).

After that, I did submit chapters 2-8 in sequential order. I submitted the introduction and chapter 1 last, along with the back-matter like the Appendices and Further Reading section. But, in the actual process of writing, I ended up drafting parts of the chapters in smaller chunks. I jumped around a lot.

For example, while researching and writing sections about the works in chapter 3 (“Apocrypha of the Hebrew Bible”), I wrote sections about 1 Enoch and 2 Esdras that are included in chapter 8 (“Revelations and Apocalypses”). That makes sense, since those apocalypses are related to other works like Jubilees, since they were all written by Jews in the Second Temple period.

Similarly, while writing about “Fragments of Jesus’s Teachings” and the Gospel of Thomas in chapter 5, I was researching the next chapter on “Gnostic Texts.” Again, there’s a connection here, since some of the fragments of Jesus’s teachings are related to “Gnostic” apocrypha, and the Gospel of Thomas was discovered in the Nag Hammadi Codices that also include various “Gnostic” texts.

All of this also speaks to other aspects of my process which were similarly messy.

Because of my publisher’s the timeline, I wrote a full draft of Apocrypha for Beginners in about twelve weeks. I undertook most of the research and writing in August and early September, then completed and revised the manuscript in October. That was fast–especially given the slower pace of most academic publishing that I’m used to.

Fortunately, apocrypha is a subject I’ve been researching, reading, thinking, and writing about for years. Much of my task was to synthesize and present what I knew in a fresh new way. But I also had to go back to basics for a lot of this. So my process meant reading and writing simultaneously, doing some of both every day.

I began with a small stack of books that I knew would be major resources or constant companions for me. I wrote most of the book at my dining room table, which I used as a makeshift desk throughout the pandemic lockdown. As I pulled more books from my shelves, I stacked them up in towers on the table around me. As it turned out, I also shared the table with my two daughters (both under the age of five), so their crafts and toys ended up mixed in with my work.

I learned quite a lot as I wrote. One of the best parts about writing this book was digging into apocrypha and books about them that I hadn’t revisited in years and that were published recently enough that I hadn’t had a chance to read them yet. I found new books and resources on apocrypha. I read or reread apocrypha I hadn’t dug into much before.

As I researched and wrote, I went through my own process of rediscovering apocrypha in a new way. I found that my love of the subject was energized. I found renewed love for texts I’ve worked on a lot. And I found new love for texts that I hadn’t known very well before.

I hope that this new book will provide others with the start of a similar process of discovering or rediscovering apocrypha. I hope that this book will open up a subject that I love for many others.

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