APOCALYPSE OF PETER
The third text of Codex VII and consisting of a report of three visions seen by the apostle Peter, along with instructions from Jesus, during the night prior to the Crucifixion. In a passage that recalls Matthew 26:34, Jesus tells Peter, “He [You?] will accuse you [him] three times during the night” (72.2-4). On the whole, the text seems to represent an attempt to accentuate the interchange between Peter and Jesus on this memorable evening, a feature is known from the canonical Gospels (Mt. 26:33-35, 37-38, 40-41, and parallels; Jn. 13:6-9, 36-38; 18:10-11).
Briefly, the setting is the temple at Jerusalem (70.15), although the description is unfamiliar, tempting one to postulate a scene in an otherworldly temple (70.14-20). But nothing else in the text points to such an idea. The instruction to Peter opens with the Savior’s Gnostic discourse both on those “who come from life” and on the heavenly Son of Man (70.20-71.15). Next, Jesus addresses the nature of Peter’s leadership of the elect that will oppose “the imitation of righteousness” (71.15-25), with Peter coming to know the Son of Man through a ritual act (71.25-72.4). The third section, which concerns spiritual blindness, opens with a vision of the approaching persecutors, who are obviously blind to the true nature of Jesus; Peter, by contrast, sees the “new light” descend on Jesus, illustrating the difference between the Gnostic disciple and all others with inferior spiritual capabilities (72.4-73.14).
The fourth segment is made up of the Savior’s instructions about the coming apostasy from “our word” and the variety of ways in which deceptive leadership will appear in the coming generations (73.14-79.31). In the fifth portion, Jesus responds to Peter’s worry about the “little ones” being deceived, assuring him that the apostasy is to be brought to an end by a renewal of “the agelessness of immortal thought” and the deception being uprooted (79.31-80.23).
The key sixth section is made up principally of the vision of the Savior’s escape from crucifixion, introduced by promises to Peter of protection by the “Invisible One.” Peter then sees the grand vision in which the heavenly “Living Savior” not only escapes those who would nail him to the cross but also laughs at such an attempt, while a substitute is crucified in his place (80.23-83.15). The text ends with Jesus instructing Peter to teach others the “mystery” that he has witnessed (83.15-84.13).
While this text exhibits nothing of the myth of the fall of Sophia, its Gnostic character is undeniable. First, the esoteric teaching of the Savior is passed on only to one disciple, Peter, a trait shared by the Nag Hammadi tractates. Further, Peter is charged with a strict guardianship of this knowledge (73.14-18), transmitting it solely to “those of another race,” the worthy initiates (83.15-19). In addition, those who are linked to the feared “deception” are of an unchanging nature, so that they cannot receive salvation (80.21-23). Moreover, when those from above mingle with those of the world, the former are made captive, a situation from which they can escape only by possessing the saving gnosis (73.21-74.3). In fact, the “immortal ones” from above alone are receptacles of glory (83.19-26).
Without doubt, the docetic view of Jesus’ escape from suffering is clearer here than in any text in the library. It is the narration of Peter’s final vision that clinches the case: “And I said: “Who is it that I am seeing, O Lord, since you yourself are taken and it is [also] you restraining me? Or who is this happy one above the tree [cross] who is laughing while another is being struck on his feet and on his hands?’ The Savior said to me: “The one whom you see above the tree, who is glad and is laughing, is the living Jesus.
But that one, into whose hands and feet they are driving the nails, in his fleshly counterpart, the substitute . . . But look at him and Me'” (81.6-24). One further feature is worth mentioning. The garment that Peter wears throughout serves as a vehicle for revelation (72.13-28), perhaps recalling the revelatory character of the ephod worn by the Israelite high priest.
The date and place of composition of the Apocalypse of Peter are impossible to fix, since it makes no clear historical allusions to contemporary events. P. Perkins (1975) and A. Werner (1974) have demonstrated that there are allusions to Matthew’s Gospel and other New Testament traditions about Peter. One is left to conclude that the earlier Greek version of this text reached its current shape by the beginning of the second century.
- Brashler, J. A. “The Apocalypse of Peter.” Ph.D. diss. Claremont (Calif.) School of Theology, 1977.
- Brown, S. K., and C. W. Griggs. “The Apocalypse of Peter: Introduction and Translation.” Brigham Young University Studies 15 (1974-1975):131-45.
- Krause, M., and V. Girgis. “Die Petrusapokalypse.” In Christentum am Roten Meer, ed. F. Altheim and R. Stiehl, pp. 152-79. Berlin and New York, 1971.
- Perkins, P. “Peter in Gnostic Revelation.” Society of Biblical Literature 1974 Seminar Papers, Vol. 2, ed. G. W. MacRae, pp. 1-13. Los Angeles, 1975.
- Schenke, H. M. “Bemerkungen zur Apokalypse des Petrus.” Essays on the Nag Hammadi Texts: Nag Hammadi Studies VI, ed. M. Krause, pp. 277-85. Leiden, 1975.
- Werner, A. “Die Apokalypse des Petrus: Die dritte Schrift aus Nag- Hammadi-Codex VIII.” Theologische Literaturzeitung 99 (1974):575-84.