Apocalypse of Peter

Apocalypse of Peter

The recovered "Apocalypse of Peter" or "Revelation of Peter" is an example of a simple, popular early Christian text of the second century; it is an example of Apocalyptic literature with Hellenistic overtones. The text is extant in two incomplete versions of a lost Greek original, one Koine Greek, [The Greek Akhmim text was printed by A. Lods, "L'evangile et l'apocalypse de Pierre", "Mémoires publiés par les membres de la mission archéologique au Caire", 9, M.U. Bouriant, ed. (1892:2142-46); the Greek fragments were published by M.R. James, "A new text of the Apocalypse of Peter II", "JTS" 12 (1910/11:367-68).] and an Ethiopic version, [The Ethiopic text, with a French translation, was published by S. Grébaut, "Littérature éthiopienne pseudo-Clémentine", "Revue de l'Orient Chrétien", new series, 15 (1910), 198-214, 307-23.] which diverge considerably. The Greek manuscript was unknown at first hand until it was discovered during excavations directed by Sylvain Grébaut during the 1886-87 season in a desert necropolis at Akhmim in Upper Egypt. The fragment consisted of parchment leaves of the Greek version that had been carefully deposited in the grave of a Christian monk of the eighth or ninth century. The manuscript is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The Ethiopic version was discovered in 1910.

Before that, the work had been known only through copious quotes in early Christian writings. In addition, some common lost source had been necessary to account for closely parallel passages in such apocalyptic literature as the (Christian) "Apocalypse of Esdras", the "Vision of Paul", and the "Passion of Saint Perpetua."


The "terminus post quem" — the point after which the "Apocalypse of Peter" was written — is revealed by its use of "4 Esdras", which was written about 100 A.D.; it is used in Chapter 3 of the "Apocalypse". [For the date of the Ethiopic version, see C. Mauer in E. Henecke, E. Schneemelcher and R. Wilson, "New Testament Apocrypha" (Philadelphia/Westminster) 1964.] The intellectually simple "Apocalypse of Peter," with its Hellenistic Greek overtones, belongs to the same genre as the Clementine literature that was popular in Alexandria. Like the Clementine literature, the "Apocalypse of Peter" was written for a popular audience and had a wide readership. The Muratorian fragment, the earliest existing list of canonic sacred writings of the New Testament, which is assigned on internal evidence to the last quarter of the second century (i.e. "ca" 175-200), gives a list of works read in the Christian churches that is similar to the modern accepted canon; however, it also includes the "Apocalypse of Peter". The Muratorian fragment states: "the Apocalypses also of John and Peter only do we receive, which some among us would not have read in church." The Muratorian fragment is ambiguous whether both books of Revelations were meant as not received, or just Peter's. (It is interesting that the existence of other Apocalypses is implied, for several early apocryphal ones are known: see Apocalyptic literature.)


The "Apocalypse of Peter" is framed as a discourse of the Risen Christ to his faithful, offering a vision first of heaven, and then of hell, granted to Peter, the favourite figure of the emerging mainstream Church (as opposed to James the Just, favourite of the Jewish Christians). In the form of a "nekyia" [The "Apocalypse of Peter" was presented as a "nekyia", or journey through the abode of the dead, by A. Dieterich, "Nekyia" (1893, reprinted Stuttgart, 1969); Dieterich, who had only the Akhmim Greek text, postulated a general Orphic cultural context in the attention focused on the house of the dead.] it goes into elaborate detail about the punishment in hell for each type of crime, later to be depicted by Hieronymus Bosch, and the pleasures given in heaven for each virtue. In heaven, in the vision,
*People have pure milky white skin, curly hair, and are generally beautiful
*The earth blooms with everlasting flowers and spices
*People wear shiny clothes made of light, like the angels
*Everyone sings in choral prayer

The punishments in the vision each closely correspond to the past sinful actions in a version of the Jewish notion of "lex talionis", an "eye for an eye", that the punishment may fit the crime. [Pointed out in detail by David Fiensy, "Lex Talionis in the 'Apocalypse of Peter'", "The Harvard Theological Review" 76.2 (April 1983:255-258), who remarks "It is possible that where there is no logical correspondence, the punishment has come from the Orphic tradition and has simply been clumsily attached to a vice by a Jewish redactor." (p. 257).] Some of the punishments in hell according to the vision include:
*Blasphemers are hung by the tongue.
*Women who use makeup, or dress in a sexually suggestive manner, are hung by the hair over a bubbling mire (and men that had sex with them are hung by the feet next to them).
*Murderers are set in a pit of poisoned snakes
*Men who take the passive role in anal sex, and sexually active lesbians, are hurled off a great cliff, and then made to climb it again, ceaselessly.
*Women who have abortions are set in a lake formed from the blood and gore from all the other punishments, up to their necks. They are also tormented by the spirits of their children or fetuses, which shoot fire at them.

:"The Revelation of Peter shows remarkable kinship in ideas with the Second Epistle of Peter... It also presents notable parallels to the Sibylline Oracles [Specifically Sibylline Oracles ii., 225ff.] while its influence has been conjectured, almost with certainty, in the Acts of Perpetua and the visions narrated in the Acts of Thomas and the History of Barlaam and Josaphat. It certainly was one of the sources from which the writer of the Vision of Paul drew. And directly or indirectly it may be regarded as the parent of all the mediaeval visions of the other world." [ [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/info/apocalypsepeter.html Roberts-Donaldson introduction] .]

The Gospel parables of the budding fig tree and the barren fig tree, partly selected from the "parousia" of Matthew 24, [The canonic New Testament context of this image is discussed under Figs in the Bible; Richard Bauckham, "The Two Fig Tree Parables in the Apocalypse of Peter", "Journal of Biblical Literature" 104.2 (June 1985:269-287), shows correspondences with wording of the Matthean text that does not appear in the parallel passages in the synoptic gospels of Mark and Luke.] appear only in the Ethiopic version (ch. 2). The two parables are joined, and the setting "in the summer" has been transferred to "the end of the world", in a detailed allegory in which the tree becomes Israel and the flouirishing shoots, Jews who have adopted Jesus as Messiah and achieve martyrdom.

There is also a highly contentious section which explains that in the end God will save all sinners from their plight in Hell:

:"My Father will give unto them all the life, the glory, and the kingdom that passeth not away, ... It is because of them that have believed in me that I am come. It is also because of them that have believed in me, that, at their word, I shall have pity on men... " [http://www.archive.org/details/apocryphalnewtes027548mbp] [http://wesley.nnu.edu/biblical_studies/noncanon/apoc/apcpete.htm] [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/apocalypsepeter-mrjames.html]

Thus, sinners will finally be saved by the prayers of those in heaven. Peter then orders his son Clement not to speak of this revelation since God had told Peter to keep it secret:

: [and God said] "... thou must not tell that which thou hearest unto the sinners lest they transgress the more, and sin." [http://www.archive.org/details/apocryphalnewtes027548mbp] [http://wesley.nnu.edu/biblical_studies/noncanon/apoc/apcpete.htm] [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/apocalypsepeter-mrjames.html]

Career of the "Apocalypse of Peter"

Clement of Alexandria considered the "Apocalypse of Peter" to be holy scripture. Eusebius, "Historia Ecclesiae" (VI.14.1), described a work of Clement's that gave "abridged accounts of all the canonical Scriptures, not even omitting those that are disputed, I mean the book of Jude and the other general epistles. Also the Epistle of Barnabas and that called the Revelation of Peter." So the work must have existed in the first half of the second century, which is also the commonly accepted date of the canonic Second Epistle of Peter.

Although the numerous references to it attest to its being once in wide circulation, he "Apocalypse of Peter" was ultimately not accepted into the Christian canon. Thus the disappearance of every single manuscript of the work is perhaps not entirely coincidental.

The "Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter"

Another text, given the modern title the "Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter", was found in the Nag Hammadi library.


External links

* [http://www.ntcanon.org/Apocalypse_of_Peter.shtml Development of the Canon of the new testament:] "Apocalypse of Peter"
* [http://reluctant-messenger.com/apocalypse-of-peter.htm M. R. James' 1924 introduction]

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