According to tradition vs. according to Acts of Peter


#1

Peter was fleeing from Rome to Damascus when he met Jesus, who said to him “I’m going to Rome to be crucified again”. And Peter went back, and was crucified with his head down. All this according to tradition - that’s the wordings I’ve always heard regarding such stories about Jesus or the Apostles that can’t be found in the Bible.

Now I find that this story
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quo_vadis%3F
is a part of the Acts of Peter, one of the New Testament apocryphals that wasn’t included in the Bible probably because it was not considered reliable, back in approx. 4th century when the Bible as we know it was compiled, and someone decided what was in and what was out. To my understanding, these apocryphals were found on parchments or papyruses in 19th or 20th century. Some were literally dug up, others found in libraries where nobody had read them for maybe more than a thousand years - they were in languages that people couldn’t read any more, and so it took research to decipher them.

Was the idea that Peter was crucified with his head down something that entered Christian imagination and Christian art in modern times, through the discovery of these Acts of Peter and translation of the old documents? Or was there an oral tradition through over 100 years that wasn’t formally approved by the Church, that just never died out? The latter sounds improbably. But if “according to tradition” in all cases such like this one, including about Mary’s parents, simply means “according to New Testament apocryphals that were discovered in 19th/20th century” I wonder why people don’t just say that.


#2

Well, to be honest, there’s really nobody back then who took works like the Acts of Peter seriously (i.e. considered them authoritative - in other words as Scripture). That’s just us moderns imagining that such a thing happened back then (when we really have no evidence for it). Early Christians mostly wrote and read such books for entertainment value, to satisfy their curiosity about what happened to the biblical characters outside the pages of the Bible. It’s no different from modern Christians reading or writing modern biblical-based novels like Ben-Hur or The Robe.

To my understanding, these apocryphals were found on parchments or papyruses in 19th or 20th century. Some were literally dug up,

Not all of them. A precious few were copied down to the Middle Ages AFAIK. And some of the ideas in these extra-biblical literature made their way to popular Christian consciousness and became pious tradition. (Or, sometimes it’s the other way around: these extra-biblical literature made use of pious traditions prevalent in popular Christian consciousness.) That’s really why you have an ox and a donkey on your Nativity sets, and why we call Mary’s parents Joachim and Anna/Anne.

others found in libraries where nobody had read them for maybe more than a thousand years - they were in languages that people couldn’t read any more, and so it took research to decipher them.

Not exactly. It’s not like we’re talking stuff like Ancient Egyptian here (where we literally had to deciper the hieroglyphics first). We’re talking about ancient languages that are either dead - but not really written in undecipherable scripts - or now limited to ritual use: languages like Latin, Koine Greek, Coptic (the latest form of ancient Egyptian written in

Was the idea that Peter was crucified with his head down something that entered Christian imagination and Christian art in modern times, through the discovery of these Acts of Peter and translation of the old documents? Or was there an oral tradition through over 100 years that wasn’t formally approved by the Church, that just never died out? The latter sounds improbably. But if “according to tradition” in all cases such like this one, including about Mary’s parents, simply means “according to New Testament apocryphals that were discovered in 19th/20th century” I wonder why people don’t just say that.

It’s actually the latter. And the idea that Peter was crucified is found outside the Acts of Peter - that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Tertullian (On Prescription Against Heretics 36; Scorpiace 15.3), Origen (cited by Eusebius, Church History 3.1), St. Jerome (On Illustrious Men 1), and Lactantius (De mortuis persecutorum 2.6) all refer to it.


#3

Adding to Pat’s exellent list is the fact that the the “Petrine Cross” or inverted Cross is an ancient symbol.

Caravaggio painted “The Crucifixion of Peter” in 1601.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f7/Caravaggio_-Martirio_di_San_Pietro.jpg/170px-Caravaggio-_Martirio_di_San_Pietro.jpg

-Tim-


#4

The “Acts of Peter” dates from after the 4th century, 400 years too late to be authentic.
That is why it was left out.

BTW, it was preserved by The Church, it was never lost.

There were Four Criteria for Canonicity:

[LIST=1]
*]**Apostolic Origin **- attributed to the or their followers.
*]**Universal Acceptance **- acknowledged by the whole Church in the Mediterranean world by the end of the fourth century.
*]**Liturgical Use **- read publicly along with the OT in the Divine Liturgy .
*]**Consistent Message **- compatible with other accepted Church teaching.
[/LIST]


#5

Speaking of that, here’s a depiction of it from the 1060s.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/58/Crucifixion_of_Saint_Peter_-Google_Art_Project.jpg/420px-Crucifixion_of_Saint_Peter-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

I believe the oldest depiction of this scene comes from the 6th-7th century. Up to then, it was more common to depict Peter’s arrest. When artists started portraying Peter’s crucifixion it totally replaced representations of his arrest.


The Sarcophagus of the Twelve Apostles (Ravenna, 5th century)

This is an intermediate version - Peter (on the right side) carrying a cross.


#6

Acts of Peter and some similar works are basically Christian historical novels. They often include historical events, true stories, and historically plausible stuff, but they also include urban legends and things pulled from imagination.

I personally am fond of the story about the dog who talked to get his master to repent, and Peter ordering the resurrection of a string of dried sardines to demonstrate God’s power to give life. But I don’t think those are historically or theologically likely, whereas the story of Peter considering heading out of town and stopping because Jesus gave him a clue is pretty much in character for both, and not theologically unlikely.


#7

To be more specific: our most complete version of the Acts of Peter comes from a single 7th century Latin manuscript kept at Vercelli, Italy - the so-called ‘Vercelli Acts’ or Actus Vercellenses. Aside from the Vercelli Acts, we have the section describing Peter’s martyrdom circulating independently in various languages such as Greek, Latin, Coptic, Armenian or Syriac. (This is a pretty common phenomenon: very often the more ‘interesting’/acceptable parts of an apocryphal work would be preserved independently of the main text. This is what happened to the so-called Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, essentially a late Western version of the Protoevangelium of James: the section describing the birth of Mary circulated independently down to the Middle Ages.)

Many scholars believe the Vercelli Acts represents a somewhat faithful 4th-century translation of the original Greek Acts of Peter, which is thought to have dated from the mid-to-late 2nd century. But it’s not a complete version: the Vercelli Acts is probably missing the first third of the original text.


#8

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