The Celtic Literature Collective

Gospel of Nicodemus

I.—In the hour that Adam sinned in Paradise, he was driven out of it after his sin, and he lifted up his voice at seeing himself naked. And by the mercy of the Lord he was concealed with the leaves, and, through a boon, he received a promise that the Oil of Mercy should he given him at the end of the ages. And then Adam came as far as the Yale of Hebron, with Eva, his wife; and there he endured many toils, with sweat and contrition of heart. And there were born to them two sons, Cain and Abel. And as they were sacrificing ac¬cording to their wont, the Lord looked upon the offerings of Abel, but looked not upon the offerings of Cain, because he sacrificed with reluctance of heart. And when Cain was aware that the Lord looked not upon his sacrifice, he was infuriated with jealousy and slew Abel, his brother. And when Adam saw that Cain slew his brother, he said that many evils came because of woman: As God liveth, I will have no knowledge of her further. And he kept from her two hundred years. And a second time, by a command from God, he knew her, and he had a son by her, whom he called Seth

II.—And this one was obedient to his father. And when Adam was a hundred and thirty years old, he was wearied of uprooting briars and thorns; he was bowed in the body, and was sad, and bethought him in his heart that much evil would grow in the world from his line, and be was tired of his life. And then he called Seth, his son, to him, and spoke to him, My son, said he, I will send thee to Paradise, to the Cherubim Archangel, who keeps the Tree of Life with a twisted sword of fire in his hand. I am ready, said the son; point me out the road and what I shall say to him. Tell him that I am sick of my life, and that I entreat him through thee in prayer, to send by thee assurance of the Oil of Mercy which the Lord pro¬mised me, when He sent me from Paradise. Seth got him ready, and in this wise did his father teach him the road. Walk, said he, oppo¬site the vale towards the East, and at the end of the vale thou shalt find a road untrodden, that will lead thee to Paradise. And, that thou mayst have knowledge of thy way, thou shalt find on the road and that fair path the footprints of thy mother and father, withered, and dry, and scorched. When we came from Paradise, so manifold were our sins that no blade or herb grew on the road where we trod the earth with our feet.

III.—Thereupon, Seth, as charged by his father, walked so towards Paradise. And as he drew near to Paradise, behold, there was, as it were, fire round about him from the light of Paradise, and fear came upon him, from thinking that fire encompassed him; and yet his father had warned him of this occurrence. And then he crossed himself, and marked himself with the sign of the Trinity. And then be came without hindrance. And when the angel saw him, he asked him why he came there. My father, said he, is spent with age, and tired of living longer, and sent me to thee to pray thee to give him assurance of the Oil of Mercy thou didst promise him, so that thou mightest send it to him by me. Put thy head through the wicket of the gate, said the angel, and look in steadily to find what thou seest there. And when he put in his head he saw such loveliness that tongue could not declare the diverse kinds of fruits and flowers there, or such music to which he listened, and an organ such as no man ever heard. There he saw, too, a clear fountain, and from it four streams gliding. The names of the four rivers were :—Pison, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates. And these four rivers are those that supply still water to the whole world. And above the fountain there was a tree of wondrous size, and upon it many branches, dry and bare, without bark, and without leaves. And then he drew in his head again to the angel, to declare to him fully what he saw. And then the angel bade him look in again, to see other things. And when he looked, he saw there the tree that was before bare, now sur¬rounded by leaves and bark, and as high as Heaven; and at the point of the tree was a child, newly-born, as he thought, at that hour. And he turned his face towards the earth, and there he saw the branches of the tree passing through Earth to Hell, and there he recognised the soul of Abel, his brother. And then he turned the third time to the angel, to declare what he saw. And then the angel interpreted to him the vision about the child. The Child that thou didst see, said he, is the Son of God, who mourns over the sins of thy parents, and will mourn until the fulness of time shall come. And He is the Oil that was promised thy parents. He shall effect mercy for thy parents, and for their heirs. And that mercy is the property of love.

IV.—And after Seth had been so taught by the angel, when he was starting on his journey, the angel gave him three grains from the hollow of an apple from that tree, as his father had bidden him, and told him that his father would expire at the end of three days after Seth came to Adam. And do thou place these three grains under the roots of his tongue, and from them will grow three rods. One of them will be of the species of Cedar ; the second will be of the species of Cypress; and the third will be of the species of Pine-tree. By the Cedar will be understood the Father in Heaven, for it is the highest of trees in its growth. By Cypress will be understood the Son, for it is the tree that has the most fragrance and the sweetest fruit By the Pine will be understood the Holy Ghost, because of the abundance of its fruit. And then Seth came again to his father with his message, without let. And when he declared his message to Adam, he rejoiced; and this was the only time Adam laughed since he came upon earth, and he cried continually, and spake, Lord, said he, enough is the length of my life; take my spirit to Thee. And before the end of three days, as the angel said, Adam expired. And Seth, his son, buried him in the Vale of Hebron, with the three grains aforesaid under the roots of his tongue. And from these arose after a short time three rods, and the length of them all was alike, and these rods lived in the month of Adam until Noah, and from Noah until Abraham, and from Abraham until Muses, without growing or extend¬ing any more, or changing at all from the same nature.

V.—And then, when Moses went to bring the people of Israel from the bondage of Egypt, from Pharaoh the King, through the Red Sea; and Pharaoh and his people were drowned; and Moses came to the Vale of Hebron, and the people of God with him; as Moses brought them out after encamping,—he blessed the people, to go to raise the three rods that were in Adam’s month; and by learning from the spirit of prophecy, be seized the three rods and plucked them. And when he pulled them from the mouth of Adam, they found such fragrance, that they then thought they were in the Promised Land. And when Moses plucked them, he said that they signified the Trinity. And Moses was glad to find the odours and that good sign; and he kept them with honour, covered in cloth, as precious relics. And they were forty years in the wilderness. And if any one of the host had fallen into sickness, either from the sting of a poisonous insect, or any other affection, the prophet would place the rods in his mouth, and at that hour he was healed.

VI.—And then it happened that the people asked Moses for water from the rock, and murmured for water from Moses. Ye look strangely, said Moses: can I, hateful and unbelieving people, bring you water from this stone ? And he struck two blows with his rod on the rock until water in abundance issued forth from it, so that men and animals could get plenty. And then, straightway, the Lord appeared to Moses, and communed with him thus, Because thou didst not trust in My name, said He, before the people of Israel, thou shalt not bring them to the Promised Land. Who, Lord, shall lead them I said Moses. As I live, said God, none of them shall go there, save Caleph and Joshua. Then Moses understood that his day was coming; and then he went to the lowest end of the Valley of Tabor. And there he planted the rods in the earth, and he dug him¬self a grave; and then he went into the grave, and expired. And there these rods remained a thousand years, until the time of David, the King of Judaea.

VII.—And at the end of a thousand years after Moses the prophet, David was taught through the Holy Ghost to go to Mount Tabor, to get the rods that Moses planted there: And David went there, and took the rods as far as Jerusalem, for God had foreseen that the health of the human race was of them by virtue of the Cross. And then David fared as far as Arabia; and at the end of the ninth day he came to a mountain and there David found the rods that the angel pointed out to him. And when he plucked them from the earth, David and all his company got very precious scents from the rods, so that all thought and believed that it was a heavenly thing. And, as David was returning, there met him many with afflictions, and many with divers diseases; and all of them received health from the power of the Cross, they calling aloud the while with the voice of prophecy, and saying: To-day God gives health to the world through the power of the Holy Cross, and through the Holy Ghost. And with great joy all of them went homeward, healed. And at the cud of nine days David came back to Jerusalem, and bethought him where he should plant these rods with honour. And that night he placed them in a cave of stone that was near water, so that he might plant them next day in the open. And there he left keepers that night, and a light with them, and he went to rest. And already, by Divine Power, that which is ever abundance, which does not deceive, and is never deceived, the rods shot up, standing with their roots in the rock, and blended the three rods into one. And when the King saw that marvel, he said: The fear of God he upon all the nations of the earth, for mighty and praiseworthy is He in His Works.

VIII.—The King did not move them from that place, for God placed them marvellously. And David made a wall around the tree beautifully, after planting them, to bring them out at the end of thirty years. And on the increase of each year the King caused a circle of silver to be placed each year, so that he might know what the growth of the Holy Tree *as each year; and the amount that grew on it in the first year, grew upon it each year afterwards, that being a cubit each year. And at the end of thirty years, after David committed grievous sin and deserved God’s judgment, David came under the Sacred Tree, to weep, from repentance for his sin, and to say to the Lord the Miserere. And after finishing the Psalm, he began to build a temple to the Lord, as an atonement for his sins. And for fourteen years David was engaged in the work about the temple. And yet, since David was a man of slaughter, because of the carnage he had worked, the Lord willed not that the house should be finished by him, and said to him: Thou shalt not build Me a house, for thou art a man of blood. Who, Lord, shall build it? said David. Solomon, thy son, said the Lord. And then David under¬stood that he would not last longer; and then called to him the elders and chiefs of the City, and said to them: Hearken to Solomon as ye have done to me, for the Lord has chosen him.

IX.--And after David died and was buried in the sepulchre, of the kings, Solomon ruled in Judea, and completed the temple? with joy, in the space of thirty-two years. And just before finishing it, when neither the masons nor the carpenters could find in all the forests of Libanus a beam that would fit the temple in length, nor in all the wood of the other kingdoms round about, as if in constraint and necessity they felled that tree and made a beam of it, and it was thirty-one cubits in length. And after measuring it thus, it was a cubit longer than it ought to be by the line, when it was raised and so proved. The reason why they tested was this ;—that, when the beam was on the ground, it was a cubit’s length longer than the measure; and when it was raised in its place, it was a cubit’s length shorter. And when they looked to it, they called the King to show him their wonder. And then the King commanded them to place the tree in the temple, so that it might be honoured by all that came in to the temple.

X.—Then the carpenters went to get a beam to suit, and found it readily, and finished the temple of David in joy and gladness. And then there was a custom of the kingdoms round about Jerusalem, to make a pilgrimage to the temple of the Lord to worship God. And then it happened, that this beam was honoured by all that came to the temple. And then it was told a saintly woman called Maximilla that it was unseemly for her to sit on the Sacred Tree. And then she felt her clothes burning about her. And, with the utterance of prophecy, she raised her full voice and said: My God and Lord, Jesus Christ. And when the Jews heard her name Jesus Christ, they stoned her with stones. And she was the first martyr that suffered martyrdom in the name of Christ. And then the Jews dragged the beam from the temple, and cast it into a pool that was near their city, called Probatica Piscina (the Sheeps’ Pond), wherein the entrails of animals that were sacrificed in the temple, were washed. And notwithstanding, the Lord did not suffer this Sacred Tree to be without performing miracles, wherever it might be; but each day, between eventide and morning, the angels went down into the pool, and troubled the water. And the first man that came into the pool after the troubling of the water, whatever might be the disease that was upon him, he received succour and health.

XI.— And when the Jews saw those miracles, they drew the tree from the lake, and placed it as a bridge over a river, to tread upon, so that its virtue might be less. And there the tree was lying on the banks of that river, until Queen Sibylla came as far as Jerusalem, to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, the son of David. She came to the region where the beam lay; and when she beheld the tree, she bowed her head and worshipped it, and took off her shoes, and raised her garments, and went through the water below it, and spake in the utterance of prophecy: The earth shall drip with sweat as a sign of this declaration; a king shall come from heaven through the ages hereafter, to wit, one who shall judge in his flesh; and all, both the good and the evil, shall see him among them at the last day. And everyone shall come in his flesh, to be judged of them that be under the earth and stones, and shall throw them from their tombs. And fire shall burn the air, and shall break the gates of Black Hell. And every¬one in the flesh shall see this, and the fountains shall be burned with fire for ever. Then their hidden works shall be unveiled from all, and God shall open the secrets of their hearts. Then there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the heat and splendour be plucked from the Sun, and the Stars fall, and the Heavens be over¬thrown, and the light of the Moon shall fail, and the Hills shall bow down, and the Valleys be lifted up. And there shall be nothing which shall not be levelled, neither sea nor mountain, neither high nor low, and then all things shall rest, and the earth shall be bruised and burnt. And the fountains of the rivers shall burn. And then shall come a trump from the heights of the sky, awful to sinners. And then the world shall mourn over their evil deeds, and then the Earth shall be torn and expose Hell to view. And then all the kings shall bow down before the One Lord. And then a river of brimstone shall gather with wild fire from Heaven; the moon shall be torn from her.

XII.--Moreover, Sibylla said much afterwards to Solomon, the son of David, and there this tree remained lying, until the time that Christ suffered upon it. And when the Jews condemned Christ to death, one of them said with the voice of prophecy: Take the King’s tree that lieth outside the City, and make thereof a cross for the King of the Jews. And then the Jews came outside the city, and cut the third part of the beam, and with that they made the Lord’s cross, seven cubits in length and three cubits in breadth in the crosstrees, and removed it to the place called Calvaria. And thereon they hanged our Lord Jesus Christ, for the salvation of him that believeth in Him, who possesseth honour and glory for ever and ever.

Selections from the Hengwrt Mss. Preserved in the Peniarth Library. Williams, Robert, ed. & trans. London: Thomas Richards, 1892.