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The Gospel of Peter as a Jewish Christian Document

  • Joel Marcus (a1)


The second half of the Akhmîm fragment of the Gospel of Peter distinguishes the recalcitrant Jewish leaders, who suppress the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, from the Jewish people, who regret their murder of Jesus the moment he dies – a distinction best explained by the thesis that the document was produced by and for Jewish Christians living in second-century Syria. Other Christian documents related to the Gospel of Peter and written or influenced by second- and third-century Jewish Christians, especially the Didascalia Apostolorum, show a similar combination of philo- and anti-Judaism. The Gospel's reference to the disciples fasting during the interim between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection may refer to the practice, attested in the Didascalia and elsewhere, of liturgical fasting for the Jews. Apocalypse of Peter 2, which was probably an original part of the Gospel, holds out hope for Israel's restoration. As the Akhmîm scribe excised this hopeful chapter from the Apocalypse, so he probably excised the hopeful ending of the Gospel, in which the risen Jesus commissioned the disciples to continue the work of separating the people from their recalcitrant leaders and thereby converting them to faith in the one they had crucified.



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1 For the points in this and the following paragraph, see Nicklas, T., ‘Die “Juden” im Petrusevangelium (PCair 10759): Ein Testfall’, NTS 47 (2001) 206–21 and Augustin, P., Die Juden im Petrusevangelium (BZNW 214; Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter, 2015). Unless otherwise specified, translations of the Gospel of Peter are from Brown, R. E., The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave. A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels (2 vols.; Anchor Bible Reference Library; New York: Doubleday, 1994) ii.1318–21.

2 On the dependence of Gospel of Peter on the canonical Gospels, see Brown, R. E., ‘The Gospel of Peter and Canonical Gospel Priority’, NTS 33 (1987) 321–43; Kirk, A., ‘Examining Priorities: Another Look at the Gospel of Peter's Relationship to the New Testament Gospels’, NTS 40 (1994) 572–95; Foster, P., The Gospel of Peter: Introduction, Critical Edition and Commentary (Texts and Editions for New Testament Study 4; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2010) 119–47; Henderson, T. P., The Gospel of Peter and Early Christian Apologetics: Rewriting the Story of Jesus’ Death, Burial, and Resurrection (WUNT 2.301; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011) 3243; and Augustin, Juden, 57–97.

3 See Nicklas, ‘Juden’, 220 n. 57.

4 Moreschini, C. and Norelli, E., Histoire de la littérature chrétienne ancienne greque et latine, vol. i : De Paul à l’ère de Constantin (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 2000) 101; similarly Augustin, Juden, 412–15 .

5 Nicklas, ‘Juden’, 219–21.

6 See Denker, J., Die theologiegeschichtliche Stellung des Petrusevangeliums: Ein Beitrag zur Frühgeschichte des Doketismus (Europäische Hochschulschriften 23.23.36; Bern/Frankfurt: Herbert Lang/Peter Lang, 1975), 7892, arguing for a Jewish Christian provenance on the basis of the use of the Old Testament in GP. Others who have advocated a Jewish Christian provenance include Hann, R. R., ‘Judaism and Jewish Christianity in Antioch: Charisma and Conflict in The First Century’, JRH 14 (1987) 340–60, at 357; Moreschini and Norelli, Histoire, 102; Mimouni, S. C., Les fragments évangéliques judéo-chrétiens ‘apocryphisés’: recherches et perspectives (CahRB 66; Paris: Gabalda, 2006) 65; and van Minnen, P., ‘The Akhmîm Gospel of Peter’, Das Evangelium nach Petrus: Text, Kontexte, Intertexte (ed. Kraus, T. J. and Nicklas, T.; TU 158; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2007) 5360, at 59. None gives detailed argumentation.

7 Foster, Gospel of Peter, 112–13 gives the passage in Greek and English and a short discussion. Although Jesus is not merely a righteous man in the Gospel of Peter, the term δίκαιος does appear in the important passage 7.28; cf. δικαίως in 2.7.

8 Kirk, ‘Examining Priorities’, 321.

9 J. D. Crossan, ‘The Gospel of Peter and the Canonical Gospels’, Das Evangelium nach Petrus, 117–34, at 124–8; cf. Nicklas, ‘Juden’, 21.

10 See Augustin, Juden, 205–6.

11 See Nicklas, ‘Juden’, 219. Another possible OT intertext is Zech 12.10–11, which speaks of the people looking on the one they have pierced and mourning over him as over an only son. This also suggests sympathy for the ‘son’.

12 Crossan, ‘Gospel of Peter’, 126.

13 Nicklas, ‘Juden’, 220 and n. 57.

14 Crossan, ‘Gospel of Peter’, 132–3.

15 Crossan, ‘Gospel of Peter’, 133.

16 For objections to Crossan's ‘Cross Gospel’ theory, see the literature listed above, n. 2.

17 Harnack, A., The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries (1905; repr. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1961) 44–72.

18 See Van Minnen, ‘Akhmîm Gospel of Peter’; Foster, Gospel of Peter, 1–7, 43–57.

19 An exception is Perler, O., ‘L’Évangile de Pierre et Méliton de Sardes’, RB 71 (1964) 584–90, who concludes from the linkages with the Peri Pascha of Melito of Sardis that the author is a native of Asia Minor; for further parallels, see Watson, F., Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2013) 380–4. Some of these linkages, however, are probably due to a common Quartodeciman background; cf. Stewart-Sykes, A., The Lamb's High Feast: Melito, Peri Pascha and the Quartodeciman Paschal Liturgy at Sardis (VC Supplement 42; Leiden/Boston/Cologne: Brill, 1998) 26; on the Gospel of Peter and Quartodecimanism, see below, pp. 488–90. Moreover, as Francis Watson, the editor of this journal, has pointed out to me, even if we posit a literary relationship between Melito and the Gospel of Peter, that does not necessitate an Asian provenance for the latter, since the document may have travelled quickly to Asia, as it eventually did to Egypt. On the linkage between Quartodeciman circles in Asia Minor and Syria, including translations of Melito into Syriac, see Stewart-Sykes, Feast, 27–9.

20 For other patristic references, see Foster, Gospel of Peter, 97–115.

21 McCant, J. W., ‘The Gospel of Peter: Docetism Reconsidered’, NTS 30 (1984) 258–73.

22 See Foster, Gospel of Peter, 58–68.

23 In Didascalia references, the first set of numbers in parentheses is the traditional chapter number followed by the division into book, chapter and paragraph devised by F. X. Funk and used in Stewart-Sykes, A., The Didascalia Apostolorum: An English Version with Introduction and Annotation (Studia Traditionis Theologiae: Explorations in Early and Medieval Theology 1; Turnhout: Brepols, 2009). The second set of numbers designates the English translation in Vööbus, A., The Didascalia Apostolorum in Syriac (CSCO 175–6, 179–80; Louvain: Secrétariat du CorpusSCO, 1979), by page and line number; the third set designates the Syriac text in the same. I have used Vööbus’ English translation by default because it is more literal than Stewart-Sykes’ (cf. Stewart-Sykes, Didascalia, 89).

24 On the dating, provenance and Jewish Christian background of the Didascalia, see Marcus, J., ‘The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and the Didascalia Apostolorum: A Common Jewish-Christian Milieu?’, JTS 61 (2010) 596626, at 600–2, 606–9, 616–23.

25 Harnack, A., Bruchstücke des Evangeliums und der Apokalypse des Petrus (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrich, 1893 2) 41–2.

26 Cf. DA 21.5.18–5.19.1/199.22–7/215.5–9, which has the church's Easter vigil ending three hours after (the end of) the Sabbath, and Anaphora Pilati B 8 (Tischendorf, p. 487): μίᾳ δὲ τῶν σαββάτων πεϱὶ τὴν τϱίτην ὥϱαν τῆς νυκτός. Vaganay, L., L’Évangile de Pierre (EB; Paris: Gabalda, 1930) 292 comments: ‘En effet, les auteurs qui dépendent plus ou moins directement du pseudo-Pierre [sc. Didascalia, Anaphora Pilati, Aphrahat, Demonstrations 12.6] font, eux aussi, de la résurrection un miracle nocturne et le placent même vers neuf heures du soir.’

27 See Connolly, R. H., Didascalia Apostolorum: The Syriac Version Translated and Accompanied by the Verona Latin Fragments (Oxford: Clarendon, 1929) lxxvlxxvi.

28 On this link, see Stewart-Sykes, Didascalia, 213 n. 11.

29 For other canonical and non-canonical parallels to the motif of the disciples’ post-crucifixion mourning, see Kelhoffer, J. A., Miracle and Mission: The Authentication of Missionaries and their Message in the Longer Ending of Mark (WUNT; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000) 186–7. None mentions fasting.

30 See Jones, F. S., ‘The Gospel of Peter in Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions 1,27–71’, Pseudoclementina Elchasaiticaque inter Judaeochristiana: Collected Studies (2007; repr. OLA 203; Leuven/Paris/Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2012) 283–90.

31 Van Voorst, R. E., The Ascents of James: History and Theology of a Jewish-Christian Community (SBLDS 112; Atlanta: Scholars, 1989) 107 n. 36.

32 Jones, ‘Gospel of Peter’, 284–5; cf. Ephrem, Commentary on the Diatessaron 21.5 (on Luke 23.45).

33 For others, see Harris, Rendel, ‘The Origin of a Famous Lucan Gloss’, ExpT 35 (1923–24) 710; Vaganay, Évangile, 268–71; and Petersen, William L., Tatian's Diatessaron: Its Creation, Dissemination, Significance, and History in Scholarship (VC Supplement 25; Atlanta/Leiden: Society of Biblical Literature/Brill, 1994), 414–20. Unless otherwise noted, the translations are mine.

34 From Leloir, L., Saint Éphrem. Commentaire de l’Évangile concordant. Version arménienne (CSCO 137, 145. Scriptores Armeniaci i–ii; Louvain: Imprimerie Orientaliste L. Durbecq, 1953) i.300, ii.215.

35 From Frankenberg, W., Die syrischen Clementinen mit griechischem Paralleltext (TU 4.3.3./48.3; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1937) 48. The Latin is similar: velum templi scissum est, velut lamentans excidium inminens loco.

36 On Codex Sangermanensis’ Jewish Christian affiliation, see Petersen, Tatian's Diatessaron, 414–20.

37 On the influence of Jewish Christianity on the Teaching of Addai, see ter Haar Romeny, B., ‘Hypotheses on the Development of Judaism and Christianity in Syria in the Period after 70 ce’, Matthew and the Didache: Two Documents from the Same Jewish-Christian Milieu? (ed. van de Sandt, Huub; Assen: Van Gorcum/Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005) 1333, at 23–5.

38 On the influence of Jewish Christianity on the Diatessaron, see Petersen, Tatian's Diatessaron, Index Rerum under ‘Judaic-Christianity’ and ‘Judaic-Christian gospels’.

39 The Teaching of Addai is a late fourth- or early fifth-century Syrian work; see Griffith, S. H., ‘The Doctrina Addai as a Paradigm of Christian Thought in Edessa in the Fifth Century’, Hugoye 6 (2009) 269292, at 269, 281, 289.

40 Petersen, Tatian's Diatessaron, 426–7 dates the Diatessaron between 165 and 180, most likely between 172 and 175.

41 On Ephrem's anti-Judaism, see Shepardson, C. C., Anti-Judaism and Christian Orthodoxy: Ephrem's Hymns in Fourth-Century Syria (Patristic Monograph Series 20; Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2008); on Aphrahat's, see Neusner, J., Aphrahat and Judaism: The Christian-Jewish Argument in Fourth-Century Iran (SFSHJ 205; Atlanta: Scholars, 1999).

42 On these two sorts of mourning for Jesus in early Christian literature, see Stählin, G., ‘κοπετός, κόπτω’, TDNT (1938; repr. 1965) iii.847–52.

43 Augustin, Juden, 280.

44 Haimo of Auxerre, Commentary on Isaiah (PL 116.994; on Isa 53.12); cf. Vaganay, Évangile, 268, who however contrasts Haimo's testimony with GP 7.5: ‘Pierre ne dit pas que les Juifs ont embrassé la vraie foi.’

45 For example, Vaganay, Évangile, 273–5; Stewart-Sykes, Feast, 26.

46 Leonhard, C., The Jewish Pesach and the Origins of the Christian Easter: Open Questions in Current Research (SJ 35; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2006) 225.

47 21.5.13/188.20–1/206.3–5; 5.14.15/191.4–6/207.22–6;–21/191.20–192.7/208.14–26;–5.15.1/192.8–193.11/208.27–209.27; 21.5.18–5.19.3/198.19–199.15/214.5–22;–20/217.16–19.

48 See Simon, M., Verus Israel: A Study of the Relations between Christians and Jews in the Roman Empire ad 135–425 (1964; repr. Littman Library of Jewish Civilization; London: Valentine Mitchell & Co., 1996) 208–9, 219; Taylor, M. S., Anti-Judaism and Early Christian Identity: A Critique of the Scholarly Consensus (StPB 46; Leiden: Brill, 1995) 42.

49 It should go without saying that, when I refer here and elsewhere to ‘the Jews’ murder of Jesus’, etc., I am summarising the views articulated in ancient Christian texts, not my own historical or theological opinions.

50 According to Epiphanius (Pan. 70.1.2), Audius, the supposed founder of the sect, was from Mesopotamia. Williams, F., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis (2 vols.; Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 63, 79; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2009–13) ii.412 n. 1 notes that Theodore bar Koni identifies Audius as archdeacon of the church in Edessa. Connolly, Didascalia, lxxxvii observes that Ephrem, when he mentions the Audians (Hymns against Heretics 22), spells their name with an initial  ̔ayin (Theodore bar Koni does the same). Connolly concludes that the name has a Semitic origin and comes from Syria.

51 See Schwartz, E., Christliche und jüdische Ostertafeln (Abhandlungen der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaft zu Göttingen. Phil.-Hist. Klasse, Neue Folge 7.6; Berlin: Weidmann, 1905) 109–10.

52 Cf. Rouwhorst, G. A. M., Les hymnes pascales d'Ephrem de Nisibe. Analyse théologique et recherche sur l’évolution de la fête pascale chrétienne à Nisibe et à Edesse et dans quelques églises voisines au quatrième siècle (2 vols.; VC Supplement 7; Leiden/New York: Brill, 1989) i.182.

53 Rouwhorst, Hymnes, 191–2.

54 Translation altered from Williams, Panarion, ii.422.

55 See Ekenberg, A., ‘Evidence for Jewish Believers in “Church Orders” and Liturgical Texts’, Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries (ed. Skarsaune, O. and Hvalvik, R.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007) 640–58, at 653 n. 38, who traces the work to Antioch around 380 ce.

56 Cf. Lohse, B., Das Passafest der Quartadecimaner (BFCT ii.54; Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1954) 63. Rouwhorst, G., ‘The Quartodeciman Passover and the Jewish Pesach’, Questions Liturgiques 99 (1996) 152–73, at 161–2 criticises Lohse for overgeneralising the positive attitude of the Didascalia and ascribing it to Quartodecimans in general. But Rouwhorst goes too far in the opposite direction when he asserts that most Quartodeciman Christians did not fast for the Jews but against them (similarly, Stewart-Sykes, Feast, 162). Rouwhorst appositely cites Melito and Ephrem (the former a Quartodeciman, the latter a non-Quartodeciman influenced by Quartodecimanism) as hostile to Jews and Judaism. But he does not mention ὑπὲϱ αὐτῶν in the Diataxis (Pan. 70.11.3) or πεϱὶ τῶν ἀπολλυμένων in the Apostolic Constitutions (5.13).

57 See Stewart-Sykes, Feast, 26, citing GP‘s links with Melito (see above, n. 19), the custom of fasting until the Sabbath of the resurrection and the use of the Johannine chronology for Jesus’ death (see GP 2.6).

58 For Greek text and German and English translation, see Kraus, T. J. and Nicklas, T., Das Petrusevangelium und die Petrusapokalypse: Die griechischen Fragmente mit deutscher und englischer Übersetzung (GCS N.F. 11/Neutestamentliche Apokryphen i; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2004).

59 The most noteworthy of these are ἡμεῖς οἱ δώδεκα μαθηταί (‘we the twelve disciples’, GP 14.59; AP 5) and ὁ κύϱιος to the exclusion of Ἰησοῦς for the earthly Jesus; see James, M. R., ‘The Rainer Fragment of the Apocalypse of Peter’, JTS 32 (1931) 270–9, at 275; cf. idem, A New Text of the Apocalypse of Peter’, JTS 12 (1911) 572–83, at 579.

60 Dietrich, A., Nekyia: Beiträge zur Erklärung der neuentdeckten Petrusapokalypse (Leipzig: Teubner, 1893) 16; Zahn, T., Grundriss der Geschichte des Neutestamentliches Kanons (Leipzig: Deichert, 1901) 25 n. 16; James, ‘New Text’, 577–82; idem, The Recovery of the Apocalypse of Peter’, CQR 80 (1915) 136, at 20–3; idem, ‘Rainer Fragment’, 275–8; Nicklas, T., ‘Zwei petrinische Apokryphen im Akhmîm Codex oder eines? Kritische Anmerkungen und Gedanken’, Apocrypha 16 (2005) 7596.

61 See James, ‘Recovery’, 21–2.

62 On the ‘Little Apocalypse’, see Marcus, J., Mark 8–16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Yale Bible 27A; New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2009) ii.864–6.

63 For a side-by-side comparison, see Müller, C. and Detlef, G., ‘Apocalypse of Peter’, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. ii (ed. Schneemelcher, W.; Cambridge: James Clarke & Co/Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1991) 620–38, at 625–35. On the Ethiopic manuscripts, see James, ‘New Text’; idem, ‘Recovery’, 5–6; R. Bauckham, ‘The Apocalypse of Peter: An Account of Research’, ANRW (1988) ii.25.6. 4712–50, at 4713–18; Buchholz, D. D., Your Eyes Will Be Opened: A Study of the Greek (Ethiopic) Apocalypse of Peter (SBLDS 97; Atlanta: Scholars, 1988) 413–24 (for a critical text and detailed discussion, see ibid., 119–55).

64 Translation from Hills, J. V., ‘Parables, Pretenders and Prophecies: Translation and Interpretation in the Apocalypse of Peter 2’, RevB 98 (1991) 560–73, at 571–2, with some alterations to punctuation.

65 For a good summary of Bauckham's arguments, see Tigchelaar, E., ‘Is the Liar Bar Kochba? Considering the Date and Provenance of the Greek (Ethiopic) Apocalypse of Peter’, The Apocalypse of Peter (ed. Bremmer, J. N. and Czachesz, I.; Leuven: Peeters, 2003) 6375, at 64–5. Tigchelaar himself pronounces these arguments ‘possible and tempting, but … not conclusive’ (p. 64). On the next page, however, he sounds more positive: ‘None of the arguments are in themselves compelling, but the elements taken together seem to be strongly indicative of the identification.’

66 See Davies, W. D. and Allison, D. C., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (ICC; 3 vols.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988–97) iii.186.

67 Bauckham, R., ‘The Two Fig Tree Parables in the Apocalypse of Peter’, JBL 104 (1985) 269–87, at 282–3 sees the fig tree parable in Apocalypse of Peter 2 as a pre-existent tradition embodying a ‘Matthean’ theology but taken up and adapted in a different direction by the author of the Apocalypse.

68 Bauckham, ‘Fig Tree Parables’, 283.

69 Translation of C. D. Hartranft from NPNF, altered.

70 On Palestine as part of the ‘East’ that, according to Nicene Christians, was infected with a tendency to observe Passover ‘with the Jews’, see Rouwhorst, Hymnes, i.131.

71 Van Minnen (‘Akhmîm Gospel of Peter’, 59) sees this hostility as revealed in the opening of the Akhmîm version of the Apocalypse, ‘Many of them will be pseudoprophets’, which is absent in the Ethiopic version, and which he thinks the Akhmîm scribe means to apply to the Jews.

72 Van Minnen, ‘Akhmîm Gospel of Peter’, 55.



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