Apocalypse of Peter

From Academic Kids

This article does not refer to the Nag Hammadi version.*


The recovered Apocalypse of Peter or Revelation of Peter is extant in two translations of a lost original, one Greek, one Ethiopic, which diverge considerably. The Greek manuscript was unknown at first hand, until it was discovered during excavations under 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 in the grave of a Christian monk of the 8th or 9th century. The manuscript is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. An Ethiopic version was discovered in 1910.

Before that, the work was 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.

Indeed, the Apocalypse of Peter was popular 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 third quarter of the second century (i.e. ca 175-200), gives a list quite similar to the modern accepted canon, but also includes the Apocalypse of Peter. The fragment states: "the Apocalypses also of John and Peter only do we receive, which some among us would not have read in church." The original is ambiguous whether both books of Revelations were meant, 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.)

Clement of Alexandria considered the Apocalypse of Peter to be holy scripture, as Eusebius recorded in Historia Ecclesiae (VI.14.1), when he described a work of Clement 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 been in existence in the first half of the 2nd century, which is also the commonly accepted date of the canonic Second Epistle of Peter.

The terminus after which the Apocalypse of Peter was written is revealed by its use of 4 Esther, the fourth book continuing Esther, which was written about 100 A.D., used in Chapter 3 of the Apocalypse.

The Apocalypse of Peter was eventually not accepted into the Christian canon and thus remains today among the apocrypha.

Much of its vividly detailed imagery of Hell was Persian in ultimate origin. The intellectually eclectic Apocalypse of Peter, with its Hellenistic Greek overtones, belongs to the same genre as the Clementine literature that was popular in Alexandria, in which Peter hands on the secret revelation to Clement.

"The Revelation of Peter shows remarkable kinship in ideas with the Second Epistle of Peter... It also presents notable parallels to the Sibylline Oracles (cf. Orac. Sib., ii., 225 sqq.), 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." (Roberts-Donaldson introduction (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/info/apocalypsepeter.html))

It is hard to resist comparing the lurid torments of the damned in the Apocalypse of Peter with Dante's vision of Inferno.


* Note that another text entitled the Apocalypse of Peter was found in the Nag Hammadi library of gnostic texts. It is unrelated to the text discussed here.

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