The Akhmim Fragment (aka 'The Gospel of Peter')


#1

In 1886/7, what is thought to be a monk's grave dating from the 8th-9th century was excavated at Akhmim in Upper Egypt. Apart from the physical remains, the tomb contained a small, amateurishly complied parchment codex with fragments of four texts. Although the chief excavator Urbain Bouriant appeared to put more importance on the third text found (hitherto unevidenced Greek fragments of 1 Enoch), what excited everyone else was the first text, which contains a partial but fairly extensive fragment of a previously unknown gospel.

Covering nine continous pages of Greek text, the first document provided a variant version of events from the life of Jesus from His trial until after the resurrection, when some of the disciples quit Jerusalem to return to their work as fishermen. At two points, the narrative breaks into a first-person account; the second instance (occuring just before the text breaks off mid-sentence) identifies the implied narrator as Peter. Coupled with this, there exists a tradition preserved by the historian Eusebius (Church History 6.12.2-6; 6.13.1a) that there was once a gospel which circulated under Peter's name, which was condemned by Bishop Serapion of Antioch upon inspection at Rhossus in around 190.

...and another word which was put together by him, About the Gospel Called According to Peter, which he has made refuting the things falsely said in it on account of certain ones in the community at Rhossus who were diverted into heterodox teachings by the profession of said writing, from which it seems well to set out brief sayings through which he sets forth the opinion that he had about the book:

[INDENT]For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ, but the pseudepigrapha that go by their name we reject, as experienced men, knowing that we did not recieve such things. For I myself, when I was with you, had in mind that you all were bearing into the right faith, and, without going through the gospel borne forth by them in the name of Peter, I said that, if this was all that seems to bring about pettiness for you, let it be read. But having now learned from what was said to me that their mind was holing up in some heresy, I shall hasten to be with you again; wherefore, brethren, expect me in quickness. But we, brethren, taking in of what kind of heresy Marcianus was, who also contradicted himself, not thinking about what he was saying, which things you will learn from the things that I have written to you, were enabled by others who studied this same gospel, that is, by the successors of those who began it, whom we called docetics, for most of the thoughts are of their teaching, using [material] from them to go through and find that most things are of the right word of the savior, but some things are spurious, which things we order out for you.

And these things are those of Serapion.[/INDENT]

Consequently, scholars were quick to identify the Akhmim text with the gospel mentioned by Eusebius. Although this is not an unreasonable assumption, caution should still be exercised, and while the identification is highly appealing, it is ultimately still a hypothesis. Various texts survive that are written in the first person in Peter's name, which may mean that Serapion's and Eusebius' Gospel of Peter may not be the same text found at Akhmim.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_q5KlmdfTujo/SsBaZ-b2arI/AAAAAAAAAzM/b3mrZL_jbkU/s400/Gospel+of+Peter.jpg
The opening two pages of the text of the "Gospel of Peter."


#2

But of the Judaeans none washed the hands, neither Herod nor any one of his judges. And since they would not wash Pilate rose up, and then Herod the king orders that the Lord be taken away, speaking to them, “What I ordered you to do to him, do.” Now there was Joseph the friend of Pilate and the Lord there, and knowing they were about to crucify him, he came to Pilate and requested the body of the Lord for burial, and Pilate, having sent to Herod, requested his body. And Herod said, “Brother Pilate, even if nobody had requested him, we would have buried him since also Sabbath is dawning, because it is written in the Law: ‘The sun must not set on one who has been murdered.’” And he handed him over to the people before the first of Unleavened Bread, their feast.

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The surviving text begins just after Jesus (whom the text consistently calls "the Lord") has been sentenced to death. Interestingly, in this gospel Pilate is not the one who passes the verdict, but "Herod the king." The author seems to imply a knowledge of Matthew 27:24 at this point. Unlike Pilate, however, Herod and the Jews pointedly do not wash their hands: as we will soon see, the work has a very anti-Jewish air, which reflects a prevalent situation in 2nd-3rd century Christianity. In the text, Pilate becomes an advocate for Jesus, even if his portrayal as subservient to Herod (Antipas) ensures that he is not able to prevent the crucifixion. The other side of this portrayal results the blame for Jesus' death being placed squarely upon the Jews, with the Romans being exonerated of the guilt. Not only is the Petrine Pilate absolved, but the wickedness and guilt of "the Judaeans" are heightened by their lack of desire to absolve themselves. They remain guilty because they did not wash their hands.

The figure of Herod is particularly interesting. The verb "to order" (keleuō) is used in the canonical gospels for Pilate (cf. Matthew 27:58, 64). But here, it is Herod who is giving out orders. We should note that Herod Antipas appears in the Lukan passion narrative (23:7-12). The controversial scholar John Dominic Crossan, who believes that the Akhmim gospel preserves the primary source for the canonical passion narratives (which he dubs the 'Cross Gospel'), believes that Luke had gotten his information about Herod from this. However, it could also easily be the other way around: the author could have simply rewritten the Lukan report of Herod's role in the condemnation of Jesus - because he is the most significant Jewish authority to appear in the passion narratives known to him. The writer, because of his desire to scapegoat the Jews, employs Herod since he represents the presence of a Jewish political figure who could plausibly "command" people to carry out the crucifixion. Herod's supremacy is emphasized by the fact that Pilate had to seek permission from him to grant Jesus' body.


#3

Joseph - who is also here the one who buries Jesus - appears rather early, asking for Jesus' body before He was even killed. He is called here "the friend of Pilate and the Lord," (a detail not found in the canonical gospels) which results in a portrayal of Pilate as being more closely linked to those affiliated with the Christian movement. He is at least a friend of this particular follower of Jesus.

Herod answers Pilate that they would have still buried Jesus anyway even if no one had come forward to ask for His body due to the onset of Sabbath: "The sun must not set on one who has been murdered (cf. Deuteronomy 21:22-23)." The wording here may go back to the earlier handwashing scene. The clearest allusion in that scene is to Deuteronomy 21:1-9, which concerns how to handle the discovery of a dead body whose killer is unknown.

“If in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess someone is found slain, lying in the open country, and it is not known who killed him, then your elders and your judges shall come out, and they shall measure the distance to the surrounding cities. And the elders of the city that is nearest to the slain man shall take a heifer that has never been worked and that has not pulled in a yoke. And the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer's neck there in the valley. Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister to him and to bless in the name of the LORD, and by their word every dispute and every assault shall be settled. And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, and they shall testify, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed. Accept atonement, O LORD, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.’ So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD.

It would seem that the handwashing scene was a reenactment of the Deuteronomic ritual, but here the Jewish "judges" do not wash their hands, failing to take the step of absolving themselves of guilt. This lack of washing is not out of ignorance; the implication is that they have a full realization of the significance of washing, yet even armed with this knowledge they refuse to do so, leaving only Pilate - a non-Jew - to cleanse himself of innocent blood (there may be a further allusion here to Psalm 26:4-6, with Pilate taking the Psalmist's place). By alluding to this ritual, the author insinuates that Jesus' death was not a lawful execution but an unjust murder. This might explain the curious paraphrase of Deuteronomy 21:22-23, which the gospel interprets as pertaining to murder victims than to legally executed criminals. We cannot know whether the author was aware that his choice of words here puts the Jews in direct violation of the commandment: "You shall not murder." But given his anti-Jewish perspective, it is certainly plausible to suppose that he was fully aware of the implications of his selection.

Herod hands Jesus over to "the people." As seen above, the author transmogrifies what was a controlled Roman execution into an act of mob violence. In describing the various ways in which Jesus is mistreated, this text presents all of them as being carried out by the Jewish people in general. Unlike in the canonical gospels, there is no participation by Pilate, Roman soldiers, or Jewish leaders. The author then notes that it was "before the first of Unleavened Bread, their feast." This distancing comment is one of two attempts by the author to paint an "us vs. them" (i.e. Christians vs. Jews) mentality.


#4

Interesting, though not a gospel. The Church has told us what the new testament canon is and though some suggest that the canon remains open, the Church certainly hasn't added The Gospel of Peter to it. Until (Unless) she does, it's not sacred scripture.


#5

[quote="Tietjen, post:4, topic:315050"]
Interesting, though not a gospel. The Church has told us what the new testament canon is and though some suggest that the canon remains open, the Church certainly hasn't added The Gospel of Peter to it. Until (Unless) she does, it's not sacred scripture.

[/quote]

Yes. I'm only using the word 'gospel' in a very wide sense here.


#6

As I read the other posts, I came to that conclusion and decided to delete my post since it was rather obvious that you already understood this. :wink:


#7

Now having taken the Lord they were pushing him, running, and saying, “Let us drag the Son of God along, having authority over him.” And they clothed him with purple and set him upon a seat of judgment, saying, “Judge righteously, King of Israel!” And one of them, having brought a thorny wreath-crown, set it upon the head of the Lord, and others, standing, were spitting in his eyes, and the rest struck his cheeks. Others were jabbing him with a reed-staff, and some scourged him, saying, “With such honour let us honour the son of God.”

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6a/Brooklyn_Museum_-The_Crowning_of_Thorns%28Le_couronnement_d%27%C3%A9pines%29_-James_Tissot.jpg/432px-Brooklyn_Museum-The_Crowning_of_Thorns%28Le_couronnement_d%27%C3%A9pines%29_-_James_Tissot.jpg

The Jewish mob, who now have Jesus under their whim, begin mocking Him. All the mockery ascribed to the (Roman) soldiers in the canonical gospels and more besides, up to and including the actual crucifixion itself, are here portrayed to be the work of “the people.” In a scene with no parallel in the canonical gospels, they now push Jesus as they run on the way to participating in further mockery and abuse. It has been suggested that Proverbs 1:16 (“For their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood”) and Isaiah 59:7 (“Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood…”) are the inspiration for this episode. The context of Proverbs is that the wise person is not to be involved in the actions of sinners (1:10), because in the end the evil that he plots will work against him (1:18-19). The Isaianic text concentrates in a single verse the same ideas expressed throughout that chapter. The prophetic message warns that oppression and injustice will not go unpunished by God. Those whose feet run to evil in order to shed innocent blood will meet destruction. Thus the author slurs the Jews further by showing them as “running to evil” in order to shed the innocent blood of Jesus. They do not just refuse to wash their hands of this blood - they rush to be involved.

The reference to the mob sitting Jesus down on a “seat of judgment” may be a reference to John 19:13. While most translations have Pilate sitting down on the chair at Gabbatha, some scholars have pointed out that the Greek text of John is unclear - they argue it could also be possible that what John had in mind was that it was Jesus who was made to sit down on the chair. A tradition similar to that attested here in the Akhmim text can be found in the writings of St. Justin Martyr (First Apology 35):

And how Christ after He was born was to escape the notice of other men until He grew to man’s estate, which also came to pass, hear what was foretold regarding this. There are the following predictions: — Unto us a child is born, and unto us a young man is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders; (Isaiah 9:6) which is significant of the power of the cross, for to it, when He was crucified, He applied His shoulders, as shall be more clearly made out in the ensuing discourse. And again the same prophet Isaiah, being inspired by the prophetic Spirit, said, I have spread out my hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people, to those who walk in a way that is not good. They now ask of me judgment, and dare to draw near to God. (Isaiah 65:2, Isaiah 58:2) And again in other words, through another prophet, He says, They pierced my hands and my feet, and for my vesture they cast lots. And indeed David, the king and prophet, who uttered these things, suffered none of them; but Jesus Christ stretched forth His hands, being crucified by the Jews speaking against Him, and denying that He was the Christ. And as the prophet spoke, they tormented Him, and set Him on the judgment-seat, and said, Judge us. And the expression, They pierced my hands and my feet, was used in reference to the nails of the cross which were fixed in His hands and feet. And after He was crucified they cast lots upon His vesture, and they that crucified Him parted it among them. And that these things did happen, you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.

Another interesting point of comparison between Justin and ‘Peter’ is that Justin in this particular passage also attributes the crucifixion to “the Jews speaking against Him and denying that He was the Christ.” In fact Justin brings up the issue of Jewish culpability quite often in his writings (cf. First Apology 36, 49; Dialogue with Trypho 14, 16, 17, 93), although he does understand that Jesus was killed by a combination of Jewish and Roman action (First Apology 40).


#8

The taunt to Jesus here is: "Judge righteously, King of Israel." It would seem that our author has once again drawn from the Old Testament: the concept of judging in a righteous manner is common (Psalm 9:8; 96:13; 98:8-9; Proverbs 31:9; Isaiah 11:3-4; Isaiah 58:2; Jeremiah 11:18-23). Though Jesus is by all appearances powerless before His captors, the background OT texts allude to the belief that divine righteousness will reign in the end. In Isaiah 11 and Jeremiah 11 righteous judgment includes the destruction of those who plot and pursue evil deeds, something which could not have escaped the author. The abusers of Jesus once again act here in violation of their Scriptures. While the Jews call for Jesus to judge righteously, they themselves fail completely to do likewise. Later, judgment will fall upon the people, and it is only after destruction has come upon them that they acknowledge Jesus' righteousness.

The title given to Jesus in this text is not "King of the Judaeans/Jews" but "King of Israel." This alteration can be attributed to the fact that although the term "Jew" had become pejorative by this time, early Christians still wanted to claim the heritage of historic Israel as their own - by this time some have developed an implicit supersessionary theology whereby Christians see themselves as inheritors of the covenantal promises made to Israel, but conventiently deny any link between historic Israel and the contemporary Jewish people. Another effect of this subtle change is that it serves to distance Jesus from "the Jews" more. A similar phenomenon can also be seen in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which uses "Israelite" in a positive sense (the author of that work identifies himself as "Thomas the Israelite") while casting "Jews" in a negative light. We can also note some correspondence with the canonical gospel accounts: "King of the Judaeans" was the title accorded to him by gentile characters like Pilate and the soldiers (and so ends up being the 'crime' written on the inscription above Jesus' head), while "King of Israel" is used by the Jewish leaders (cf. Matthew 27:42, Mark 15:32).

All the abuses listed have a parallel in at least one canonical gospel. The mockers crown Jesus with thorns in Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:17; and John 19:2, slap Him in the face in John 19:3, spit at Him and strike Him with a reed in Mark 15:19; Matthew 27:30, and scourge Him in Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:16, 22; and John 19:1.


#9

And they brought two wrongdoers and crucified the Lord in the midst between them, but he was silent as if having no pain. And they, when they set the cross upright, inscribed that ‘THIS IS THE KING OF ISRAEL.’ And having placed his clothes before him, they divided them up and cast a lot upon them.

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The narrative moves forward into the crucifixion and the casting of lots for Jesus' clothing, which are here also perpetrated by "the (Jewish) people." The narration, which states that Jesus "was silent as if having no pain" as He was being crucified, was seized upon as proof by scholars who identified the Akhmim text with Serapion's 'Gospel of Peter'. They argue that this narration could be read in a Docetic light: Jesus did not really feel any pain because His mortal body was only an apparition. However, it should be worth pointing out that lack of sensation was not what the author was dwelling upon; instead, he focuses on Jesus' stoic, noble silence throughout the ordeal, which is perhaps his way of alluding to Isaiah 53:7.

The inscription here has 'This is the King of Israel' (cf. the comment about the term earlier); the closest canonical parallel to this is Luke's "This is the King of the Judaeans" (23:38).

((Slight digression: I should note that many early Jesus films, in a curious parallel, also notably show minimal or even a complete lack of evident suffering on the part of Jesus during the Passion though these may have been driven more by a motivation to avoid scandal by showing a 'too-human' Christ. Fact is, a lot of Jesus movies up to the 60s-70s show ultra-divine, nigh-emotionless (not to mention very Anglo-Saxon) Christs. :D Take for example, this (from The Living Bible series from the 1950s), this (Ben-Hur, 1959), or this (King of Kings, 1961).))


#10

Now one of those wrongdoers reviled them, saying, “We have thus been made to suffer for the wrongs which we have done; but this one, having become saviour of men, what injustice has he done to you?” And having become angry at him, they commanded that there be no leg-breaking, that he might die in torments.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/94/Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Pardon_of_the_Good_Thief_%28Le_pardon_du_bon_Larron%29_-_James_Tissot.jpg

The criminal here rebukes not the other thief (who does not even speak), but the mob who had crucified Jesus. Identifying Jesus as the "Savior of men" is effectively a Christian proclamation, thus making the man crucified next to Jesus a stand-in for Christians.

There is some ambiguity as to who the "he" whose legs will not be broken is, whether it refers to Jesus or to the malefactor who defended Him. It seems that the subject of the one whose legs are not to be broken is best understood as Jesus, since aside from the parallel in John, in the following scene the Jews become fearful that the sun has set while "He was still alive," which is clearly a reference to Jesus. The author's point, however, is ultimately the same: anyone who sides with Jesus will face hostility from the Jews.

Unlike in John's gospel (where the leg-breaking was motivated by faithfulness to the Torah, 19:31-33; cf. again Deuteronomy 21:22-23), where this scene is derived from, here the desire that the legs not be broken is driven by sheer sadism. The Jews wish to prolong the agony by keeping the crucified alive longer. The author has rewritten here by incorporating Luke's good thief and John's leg-breaking episode, doing so in a way that shows Jews to be so hostile to Jesus (or to those sympathetic to Him) to the point that they wish to bring about greater torment rather than alleviating suffering through the breaking of legs.


#11

There is a reason why this book did not make it into the bible brother. This book was not written by Peter and is a fake. This book is not guided by the Holy Spirit and to count this book as canon would be sin.


#12

I don’t think anyone really believes that Peter wrote this document.


#13

Now it was noontime, and darkness held all Judaea fast, and they were troubled and agonized lest the sun had set while he was still alive. (It is written for them: ‘the sun must not set on one who has been murdered.’) And one of them said, “Give him gall with wine-vinegar to drink.” And having mixed it, they gave it to drink: and they fulfilled all things and completed their sins on their own head. Now many, having went about with lamps (assuming that it was night), fell down.

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GP describes a darkness at noon like the synoptics (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44). It differs, however, from the synoptics - all of which use the same expression: “sixth hour” - in its reference to the time of darkness: it uses the word mesēmbria, “noon.” Here again the author echoes OT texts in a manner that further disparages the portrait of Jews. Three passages (Deuteronomy 28:28-29; Isaiah 59:9-10; Amos 8:9) make time reference to noontime - the Septuagint in all three passages uses the same word mesēmbria - and in each of them this noon indicator is linked to darkness. Furthermore, the darkness in each episode comes as a result of divine judgment (Isaiah 59:15-18). In the Deuteronomy and Isaiah passages particularly there are also references to “groping about at midday as a blind person would grope in the darkness” (Deuteronomy 28:28 LXX) and to “[falling] at noon as at midnight” (Isaiah 59:10 LXX), which is also echoed in the (original to this work) scene where the Jews “went about with lamps,” thinking it to be night, and “fell down.”

The author conflates the two drinks given to Jesus in both Matthew (27:34, 48) and Mark (15:23, 36) into one beverage of “gall and vinegar (sour wine),” thereby producing a neater parallel with Psalm 69:22 LXX. (The Epistle of Barnabas 7:3, 5 also seems to join the two events to conform with the text of the Psalm.) The text describes the many actions that “the people” perpetrate upon Jesus, concluding with the comment “they fulfilled (eplērōsan) all things and completed (eteleiōsan) their sins.” For the author, the offer of poisoned vinegar was the last straw.

Once again the paraphrase of Deuteronomy 21:22-23 is repeated as an ominous echo. As said earlier, the author thus insinuates that Jesus’ death was not so much a lawful execution as an unjust murder. Another item of interest is how “the law” mentioned in our gospel “is written for them.” While the author employs OT allusions throughout the work mainly to further his negative portrayal of the Jews, he views the legal requirement of Deuteronomy as something that does not apply to him or, presumably, other Christians. The mandate, the author thinks, is for Jews alone, “the other”: what is for “them” is not for “us.”


#14

And the Lord shouted, saying, “My Power, O Power, you have abandoned me!” And having said this, he was taken up. And in that hour the veil of the sanctuary of Jerusalem was torn in two.

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Jesus' cry in this version has been also seized upon as a proof that this work is the same one condemned by Bishop Serapion at Rhossus. It is argued that the form of the last word here could be interpreted docetically as the divine Christ (the "power") going back to heaven ("being taken up"), abandoning its human shell. However, again it may be worth pointing out that hē dynamis, "the Power" could simply be a euphemism for "God," something that we can also find in the gospels (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62 "You will see the son of man seated at the right hand of the Power (tēs dynameōs)"; cf. also Luke 22:69 "from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God (tēs dynameōs tou Theou)"). The reason for this variant could be either due to it being what the author's text (i.e. his copy of the Psalms) said, or due to an embarassment by the author at Jesus' apparent weakness. For Jesus to explicitly call out to "God" in abandonment (even if quoting a Psalm) was too much for him, so he softened the impact of the text by having Jesus call out to God euphemistically as "the Power."

We could note that according to Eusebius (Demonstratio Evangelica 10.8), Aquila of Sinope in his Greek translation actually translated Psalm 22:1 as the almost-similar "My strong one (ischyre mou), my strong one, why have you forsaken me?"

So, then, the beginning of the Psalm includes the words "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani" in the same syllables, which Aquila has thus translated: "My strong one, my strong one, why hast thou left me?" And everyone will agree that this is equivalent to our Saviour's words at the time of His Passion. ...]

This Psalm then uses "Eli, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani," as our Lord Himself does, and not Eloeim. And so Aquila, aware of the distinct meaning of God's Hebrew name of Eloeim, did not, like the other translators, think good to render them "My God, my God"----but "My strong one, my strong one," or more accurately, "My strength (ischys mou), my strength." So that taking this sense the Lamb of God our Saviour, when he said, "Eli, Eli," to His Father, meant, "My strong one, my strong one, why hast thou forsaken me?" And may.be He was crucified, because His Strong One had left Him, as the apostle says, "For he was crucified in weakness, but he liveth by the power of God," implying that He would not have been crucified, unless His Strong One had left Him. And surely it befits the Lamb of God, Who was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearers is dumb, to attribute His own powers to God, and to reckon He had nothing of His own except His Father: wherefore He calls His Father His Strength, just as in Psalm xviii. He gives Him the names of Strength and Refuge, saying:

"I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my foundation, and my refuge, and saviour. My God, my helper, and I will trust in him; my protector, the horn also of my refuge, and my succour.

His Strong One forsook Him then, because He wished Him to go unto death, even "the death of the cross," and to be set forth as the ransom and sacrifice for the whole world, and to be the purification of the life of them that believe in Him. And He, since he understood at once His Father's Divine counsel, and because He discerned better than any other why He was forsaken by the Father, humbled Himself even more, and embraced death for us with all willingness, and "became a curse for us," holy and all-blessed though He was, and "He that knew no sin, became sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho 125) also interprets the name Israel thus: "accordingly the name Israel signifies this, A man who overcomes power; for Isra is a man overcoming, and El is power (dynamis)."


#15

The author then notes that Jesus was "taken up." Obviously it does not refer to a literal ascension (since, as we will soon see, His body was still hanging on the cross). Again, while one could interpret it in a docetic way as "the divine Christ leaving the human Jesus," there is also a possibility that the author simply chose a fancy euphemism for "giving up the ghost." Some who question the docetic interpretation of the text question why did the "divine Christ" only leave Jesus immediately before His death, after all the sufferings had taken place - why didn't it go away when He was being tortured or just when He was about to be nailed? In actual docetic writings, the divine Christ leaves the human Jesus to suffer on the cross - it doesn't suffer along with the human shell and then evacuate at the last minute - and in some accounts this divine Logos actually looks down on those who think they are putting the Christ to death (cf. Acts of John 101-102; the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter, quoted below).

When he had said those things, I saw him seemingly being seized by them. And I said "What do I see, O Lord? That it is you yourself whom they take, and that you are grasping me? Or who is this one, glad and laughing on the tree? And is it another one whose feet and hands they are striking?"

The Savior said to me, "He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me."

But I, when I had looked, said "Lord, no one is looking at you. Let us flee this place."

But he said to me, "I have told you, 'Leave the blind alone!'. And you, see how they do not know what they are saying. For the son of their glory instead of my servant, they have put to shame."

And I saw someone about to approach us resembling him, even him who was laughing on the tree. And he was with a Holy Spirit, and he is the Savior. And there was a great, ineffable light around them, and the multitude of ineffable and invisible angels blessing them. And when I looked at him, the one who gives praise was revealed.

Given the general theme in the text, the tearing of the Temple (again lifted from the synoptics) for the author seems to have been, like the darkness, a sign of judgment against "the Jews" for their deicide.


#16

And then they drew the nails out of the hands of the Lord and placed him upon the earth; and the whole earth was shaken, and there came a great fear. Then the sun shone and it was found to be the ninth hour.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4b/Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Descent_from_the_Cross_%28La_descent_de_croix%29_-_James_Tissot.jpg/426px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Descent_from_the_Cross_%28La_descent_de_croix%29_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Unlike the earthquake in Matthew's gospel (27:51), here the earthquake occurs just as the dead body of Jesus is taken off the cross and laid upon the ground. Those who argue against a docetic interpretation of the text argue that if the author was intentionally promoting docetic ideas, it is unlikely that he would have added this detail. For the author, the body of Jesus is apparently so sacred that the very earth itself convulses upon coming into contact with it. No thoroughgoing docetic theology would view the dead shell of the divine Logos in such reverential terms.

It seems that the author had intended this earthquake to be the third of the signs of divine judgment against the Jewish mob. In the Hebrew Bible earthquakes are a common indicator of divine wrath (Isaiah 5:25; 24:18; Jeremiah 4:23-24; Ezekiel 38:19-20; Joel 2:10). The author with his extremely anti-Jewish worldview interpreted these signs and more as divine retribution. The return of sunlight is marked by a reference to the ninth hour, thus placing the chronology in alignment with the synoptics (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44).

((Another digression. The Akhmim text makes mention of nails being used to pin Jesus' hands to the cross (John is the only one of the four canonical gospels to explicitly mention nails; 20:25). Like John, the author's focus is only on the hands, with no clear indication as to whether the feet were nailed as well. Now while the general idea is that both Jesus' hands and feet were nailed, something supported by a literal reading of Psalm 22:16 (cf. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 97), Luke 24:39-40, and the discovery of the heelbone of a crucified victim from Jerusalem, some Christian writers in the early centuries seem to have thought that only two nails were used (the old Catholic Encyclopedia article points to St. Ambrose's De obitu Theodosii; Patrologia Latina, vol. 16, 1402). Early artworks give conflicting information in this regard (a few of them do not distinctly show signs of nails on the feet, while others do), and even some of the evidences for Jesus' feet being nailed are ambiguous. For instance, the passage in Luke seems not to imply so much the stigmata as Jesus' attempting to prove that He has flesh and bones (also see here); while the crucified man from Givat ha-Mivtar was indeed nailed at the ankles, upon reexamination there was no evidence that his hands were nailed. It could be likely that the author of our apocryphal gospel envisaged only the hands of Jesus being nailed, although we could not be totally sure. Anyways this work do not provide us with any key information as to how the historical Jesus was really fixed to the cross.))


#17

But the Judaeans rejoiced and gave his body to Joseph that he might bury it, since he had seen what good things he did. Now having taken the Lord, he washed and tied him with a linen shroud and brought him into his own burial-place called ‘Joseph’s Garden’.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/30/Brooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Carried_to_the_Tomb_%28J%C3%A9sus_port%C3%A9_au_tombeau%29_-_James_Tissot.jpg/456px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Carried_to_the_Tomb_%28J%C3%A9sus_port%C3%A9_au_tombeau%29_-_James_Tissot.jpg

What the Jews are "rejoicing" about is unclear: it could have been either due to the fact that Jesus was finally dead or simply due to the return of daylight. If it is the former option which the author has in mind here, the people would not keep this mood for long. Perhaps the latter is more likely: earlier in the narrative Herod expresses concern that Jesus would last until the beginning of the Sabbath at sunset, and the Jewish crowd similarly become anxious when the midday darkness occurs. They may have been rejoicing at the fact that it was still daytime and that (ironically) they did not break the Law which, in the narrator's words, was "written for them."

As in the canonical gospels, here Joseph receives the body (having asked for it earlier in the narrative) and gives it a proper burial. Unlike the synoptics, where women are specifically named as being present at the burial, the text makes no reference to them in this context. The implication is that Joseph alone buries Jesus in his own tomb. The time of burial here seems to take place very soon after Jesus' removal from the cross, that is, during the mid-afternoon hours. There is once again a harmonization of details from two gospels: the detail about the tomb being Joseph's own comes from Matthew (27:60), while its location in a garden derives from John (19:41).


#18

Then the Judaeans and the elders and the priests, knowing what evil they had done to themselves, began to beat in mourning and say, “Woe to our sins! The judgment and the end of Jerusalem are at hand!” But I with my companions were grieving, and being wounded in mind we hid, because we were being sought by them as wrongdoers and as wanting to set fire to the sanctuary. And above all these we were fasting and we sat lamenting and weeping night and day until the Sabbath.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/16/Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Sorrow_of_Saint_Peter_%28La_douleur_de_Saint_Pierre%29_-_James_Tissot.jpg/435px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Sorrow_of_Saint_Peter_%28La_douleur_de_Saint_Pierre%29_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Here (in another episode original to this gospel) we get "the Jews and the elders and the priests" finally realizing and regretting the great sin that they have perpetrated. Let's talk about the somewhat anachronistic reference to "the judgment (krisis) and the end of Jerusalem" here. John Dominic Crossan, in support of his thesis that 'Peter' preserves an early document called the Cross Gospel (which he believes is the source which the canonical gospels used to compose their respective passion narratives), claims that this statement is not a vaticinium ex eventu (a 'prediction after the fact'), arguing that the background of the text lies in Ezekiel 9:1 and Isaiah 41:21 and citing the fact that a commentary on Nahum found in Qumran (4Q169, aka 4QpNah) that predates the fall of Jerusalem refers to the city's eventual destruction by foreigners. His argument at this point however seems to be nothing more than special pleading. Crossan seems to believe (along with admitedly, a number of modern-day scholars) that Jesus' predictions of the fall of Jerusalem contained in the canonical gospels are vaticinia ex eventu, but how can he claim that those prophecies were written after the event and yet make an exception for the Akhmim text's reference? His arguments for GP's reference to the "end of Jerusalem" as not necessarily indicating a post-AD 70 date could easily be applied to Matthew, Mark, or Luke as well.

The more likely thing, when we consider the Gospel of Peter in its entirety, is that it represents a development to be placed later than the canonical gospels. The author has added the destruction of Jerusalem to the intracanonical traditions of darkness, torn veil and earthquake because it could was so easily understood by many early Christians as punishment on the Jews. In fact, for the author, the events of AD 70 were the culmination of God's retribution against the Jews for (in his view) their killing of Jesus. What he did in his gospel was that he compressed time and made the Jews of the AD 30s already aware of what will happen forty years later. In effect, this is the author's ideal/fantasy at play: in the eyes of some early Christians, Jews should lament over their role in the death of Jesus and acknowledge that God has judged their nation in the destruction of their capital and temple by the Romans.

Let's disgress a bit here to talk about early Christian perception of the Jews' role in Jesus' death. The main point of divergence by the early Christian community from its Jewish roots was of course the belief that Jesus was the Messiah. As early as the writings of St. Paul - the earliest Christian documents we have - we already see a connection being made between "the Judaeans" (traditionally "the Jews") and the death of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16).

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!

Three things about this passage. First of all, St. Paul is here linking the sufferings of his Thessalonian audience to those of Christians in Judaea. The Thessalonian imitation of the Judaeans lies in the experience of persecution from their fellow countrymen. Just as Judaean Christians suffered at the hands of fellow Judaeans, so the Thessalonian Christians are suffering from other Macedonians. Not only does Paul associate Thessalonian sufferings with that of Judaean Christians, he ties both experiences to the suffering of Jesus, and it is Jews who are said to be culpable for both the Judaean persecution and the killing of Jesus. Paul speaks of Jewish responsibility for Jesus' death in the same context in which he refers to them as "[filling] up the measure of their sins." The measure of "the Judaeans'" sins here includes the killing of Jesus and the prophets, along with the expulsion and hindrance of Christian missionaries. For Paul, rejection of the Christian message is tied to the ultimate rejection of God's chosen - the crucifixion of Jesus. Moreover, to hinder the work of Christian missionary efforts is to call to mind the original refusal to heed the message brought by Jesus.


#19

The author of GP seems to borrow a page or two from Paul in writing this apocryphal work. After the work details the abuses that the Jews supposedly hurled against Jesus (pushing Him, crowning Him with thorns and scourging Him, crucifying Him and offering Him gall with vinegar, etc.), it concludes by saying that "they fulfilled all things and completed their sins on their own head." Furthermore, the author of GP also seems to think that "wrath has come upon" the Jews via the supernatural signs - the darkness, the torn veil, and the earthquake, combined with the (future) fall of Jerusalem.

One thing we could notice about Christianity of the first two centuries is the gradual intensification of anti-Judaism. As the rift between Christianity and Judaism grew wider apart, so did the conflict between them become more and more pronounced. Jews accused Christians of being apostates; Christians began to develop supersessionistic views. Even so, there was some regional variation in anti-Judaism: it was found mainly in areas where Christianity was strong, especially in cities with mixed pagan and Jewish populations, places where religious rivalries were more likely to be expressed openly. (In other words, places like Rome, Syria and Asia Minor.) In some regions like Judaea and Greece, it was less pronounced, perhaps because the population constituency and blend of rivalries were different. Within Christianity there was a range of attitudes over Judaism: on the one hand it included criticism of Judaism by both Jews (such as Matthew and John, and perhaps the unknown authors of Hebrews and the Epistle of Barnabas) and non-Jews (Ignatius of Antioch, Marcion, Melito of Sardis, the author of the Epistle to Diognetus); on the other hand, it involved benign neglect (gnostics like Valentinus) and accomodation to Judaism by absording and adapting its documents (cf. the Didache and the prayers embedded within the Apostolic Constitutions).

The brand of anti-Judaism the author of the Gospel of Peter espouses is closer to the type espoused by the author of the apocryphal Epistle of Barnabas (who sees an 'us-them' distinction between Christians and Jews), St. Justin Martyr, and Melito of Sardis. As noted earlier, while Justin shows knowledge of Roman involvement in Jesus' death, he typically emphasizes Jewish culpability more in his works. His casting of guilt upon the Jews is explaining what is, in his eyes, the refusal of his Jewish contemporaries to acknowledge the identity of Jesus as Israel's Messiah.

For other nations have not inflicted on us and on Christ this wrong to such an extent as you have, who in very deed are the authors of the wicked prejudice against the Just One, and us who hold by Him. For after that you had crucified Him, the only blameless and righteous Man—through whose stripes those who approach the Father by Him are healed—when you knew that He had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, as the prophets foretold He would, you not only did not repent of the wickedness which you had committed, but at that time you selected and sent out from Jerusalem chosen men through all the land to tell that the godless heresy of the Christians had sprung up, and to publish those things which all they who knew us not speak against us. So that you are the cause not only of your own unrighteousness, but in fact of that of all other men. And Isaiah cries justly: 'By reason of you, My name is blasphemed among the Gentiles.' (Isaiah 52:5) And: 'Woe unto their soul! Because they have devised an evil device against themselves, saying, Let us bind the righteous, for he is distasteful to us. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked! evil shall be rendered to him according to the works of his hands.' And again, in other words: 'Woe unto them that draw their iniquity as with a long cord, and their transgressions as with the harness of a heifer's yoke: who say, Let his speed come near; and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel come, that we may know it. Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put light for darkness, and darkness for light; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!' Accordingly, you displayed great zeal in publishing throughout all the land bitter and dark and unjust things against the only blameless and righteous Light sent by God.

For He appeared distasteful to you when He cried among you, 'It is written, My house is the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves!' (Matthew 21:13) He overthrew also the tables of the money-changers in the temple, and exclaimed, 'Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you pay tithe of mint and rue, but do not observe the love of God and justice. You whited sepulchres! Appearing beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones.' And to the Scribes, 'Woe unto you, Scribes! For you have the keys, and you do not enter in yourselves, and them that are entering in you hinder; you blind guides!'

  • Dialogue with Trypho, 17

#20

Bishop Melito of Sardis in Asia Minor provides further indication of the continued emphasis on Jews as the perpetrators of Jesus' execution. His Homily on Pascha (AD 160-170) reflects perhaps the most vehemently critical attitude toward Jews of any Christian work from the period. We should note that Sardis had a substantial Jewish population during Melito's time (as is evidenced by a synagogue), and in reading his work we may be catching some glimpse of the ongoing tensions between Christians and Jews in the city. Aside from the canonical gospels, no work has closer affinities with the Gospel of Peter than does Melito's homily (73-79, 94-99):

Why, O Israel, did you do this strange injustice? You dishonored the one who had honored you. You held in contempt the one who held you in esteem. You denied the one who publicly acknowledged you. You renounced the one who proclaimed you his own. You killed the one who made you to live. Why did you do this, O Israel? Has it not been written for your benefit: "Do not shed innocent blood lest you die a terrible death"? Nevertheless, Israel admits, I killed the Lord! Why? Because it was necessary for him to die. You have deceived yourself, O Israel, rationalizing thus about the death of the Lord. It was necessary for him to suffer, yes, but not by you; it was necessary for him to be dishonored, but not by you; it was necessary for him to be judged, but not by you; it was necessary for him to be crucified, but not by you, nor by your right hand.

O Israel! You ought to have cried aloud to God with this voice: "O Lord, if it was necessary for your Son to suffer, and if this was your will, let him suffer indeed, but not at my hands. Let him suffer at the hands of strangers. Let him be judged by the uncircumcised. Let him be crucified by the tyrannical right hand, but not by mine." But you, O Israel, did not cry out to God with this voice, nor did you absolve yourself of guilt before the Lord, nor were you persuaded by his works.

The withered hand which was restored whole to its body did not persuade you; nor did the eyes of the blind which were opened by his hand; nor did the paralyzed bodies restored to health again through his voice; nor did that most extraordinary miracle persuade you, namely, the dead man raised to life from the tomb where already he had been lying for four days. Indeed, dismissing these things, you, to your detriment, prepared the following for the sacrifice of the Lord at eventide: sharp nails, and false witnesses, and fetters, and scourges, and vinegar, and gall, and a sword, and affliction, and all as though it were for a blood-stained robber. For you brought to him scourges for his body, and the thorns for his head. And you bound those beautiful hands of his, which had formed you from the earth. And that beautiful mouth of his, which had nourished you with life, you filled with gall. And you killed your Lord at the time of the great feast.

...]

Pay attention, all families of the nations, and observe! An extraordinary murder has taken place in the center of Jerusalem, in the city devoted to God's law, in the city of the Hebrews, in the city of the prophets, in the city thought of as just. And who has been murdered? And who is the murderer? I am ashamed to give the answer, but give it I must. For if this murder had taken place at night, or if he had been slain in a desert place, it would be well to keep silent; but it was in the middle of the main street, even in the center of the city, while all were looking on, that the unjust murder of this just person took place. And thus he was lifted up upon the tree, and an inscription was affixed identifying the one who had been murdered. Who was he? It is painful to tell, but it is more dreadful not to tell. Therefore, hear and tremble because of him for whom the earth trembled.

The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel. O frightful murder! O unheard of injustice! The Lord is disfigured and he is not deemed worthy of a cloak for his naked body, so that he might not be seen exposed. For this reason the stars turned and fled, and the day grew quite dark, in order to hide the naked person hanging on the tree, darkening not the body of the Lord, but the eyes of men. Yes, even though the people did not tremble, the earth trembled instead; although the people were not afraid, the heavens grew frightened; although the people did not tear their garments, the angels tore theirs; although the people did not lament, the Lord thundered from heaven, and the most high uttered his voice.

Why was it like this, O Israel? You did not tremble for the Lord. You did not fear for the Lord. You did not lament for the Lord, yet you lamented for your firstborn. You did not tear your garments at the crucifixion of the Lord, yet you tore your garments for your own who were murdered. You forsook the Lord; you were not found by him. You dashed the Lord to the ground; you, too, were dashed to the ground, and lie quite dead.

We can note the similarities in perspective between the author of GP and Melito: both characterize Jesus' death as an "unjust murder," both exclusively blame the Jews for the deed, both believe that the supernatural phenomena at Jesus' death were signs of divine judgment against the people in retribution for their crime.


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