Documents for the Study of the Gospels

By David R. Cartlidge; David L. Dungan | Go to book overview

The Gospel of Peter

Introduction: The Gospel of Peter is known to have been in circulation around 175 C.E. in Syria, where it was used by Bishop Serapion of Antioch. Although the Gospel of Peter has drawn many phrases and scenes from the canonical Gospels, there appear to be traditions underlying the Gospel of Peter that go back to the first century and that are independent of and as old as those of the New Testament’s Gospels.1 This translation is based on a fragment2 (eighth or ninth century C.E.) that was discovered in 1886 in the grave of a Christian monk near Akhmim, in Upper Egypt; it is the only surviving extensive portion of the Gospel of Peter. Two other small and barely decipherable papyrus fragments of the Gospel were published in 1972.3 This papyrus dates from the second century. The Akhmin fragment itself is part of a larger document, one which may have resembled the canonical Gospels. Along with the remarkable resurrection scene, which is unique in presently known gospel literature, and its very early traditions, this Gospel is significant in the way it reflects the rising tide of militant anti-Semitism in the early Church, as evidenced by the way in which the gospel writer systematically intensifies the Jewish elders’ fierce desire to exterminate Jesus, while at the same time he depicts Pilate as innocent and helpless. Some scholars believe the Gospel of Peter to represent a docetic4 theology, but this judgment, too, is under debate.

1.… none of the Jews washed their hands, nor did Herod or any of his judges. As they did not wish to wash, Pilate stood up [to leave]. 2. Then Herod the king ordered that the Lord be taken away, and he said to them, “What I ordered you to do to him, do it.” 3. Joseph, a friend of Pilate and of the Lord, stood there, and, knowing that they were about to crucify him, he came to Pilate and asked for the body of the Lord for burial. 4. Pilate sent to Herod and asked for his [Jesus’] body. 5. Herod said, “Brother Pilate, even if no one had asked for the body, we would bury him, since the Sabbath is about to begin. For it is written in the law: “The sun shall not set on one

1. See John Dominic Crossan, The Cross That Spoke (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988);
Ron Cameron, The Other Gospels (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1982), 77.

2. Our text is translated from the Greek text in M. G. Mara, évangile de Pierre. Sources
Chretiennes
, n.201 (Paris, 1973).

3. Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2949 appears to be from a slightly different version of the gospel
of the Akhmim Fragment. See Crossan, 6–9.

4. “Docetism” is an early Christian theology that denies or greatly underplays the humanity
of Jesus. The word derives from the Greek dokein, “to seem.” Thus, Jesus only “seemed” to
be a real human. See Crossan and Cameron, n.l, above.

-76-

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