The apocryphal Acts of John is a curious text which is first attested in the Manichaean Psalm-book in the Chester Beatty collection.
This papyrus manuscript was one of seven Coptic codices which were discovered somewhere in Egypt before 1929. Naturally they were broken up by the Cairo dealers in order to obtain a higher price, and then sold after much haggling to two wealthy buyers. “The codices include the Manichean psalmbook, a fragment of the Synaxeis, two versions of the Kephalaia, a collection of homilies, the Acts, and a volume of Mani’s letters.” Part of the collection was bought by Chester Beatty and is in London; the remainder by Professor Carl Schmidt of Berlin. The Berlin material was looted by the Soviets at the end of WW2, and the location of much of it is uncertain. A facsimile has been printed of both parts of the Psalm-Book. There is an edition with English translation of the second part of the Psalm-Book. The text probably belongs to the late 3rd century.
The Manichaean literature in this collection originates from Syriac sources. There is some evidence that the Acts of John may have been composed in that language, rather than in Greek. The date of the work is unclear, but seems to be late 3rd century also. There is a reference to John causing the collapse of the famous temple of Artemis at Ephesus, in which the temple is supposed to stand on high ground. In fact it stands on the plain, so the author had no knowledge of the region. Likewise the temple of Artemis was partly destroyed by the Goths in 269 AD, so again this suggests that time had gone by and that the author knew only that the temple had partly collapsed. But none of this is very conclusive…
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