Each week just now I’m talking about one of the apocryphal texts that I have assigned to my graduate seminar this semester on early Christian apocrypha. This week we took on one of my all-time favorites, the Gospel of Peter. I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, but it’s been a while. I’ve been writing about it in the book I’m working on, and I’m particularly struck by how enigmatic and fascinating it is.
Unfortunately, we have only a fragment of the book, which begins smack dab in the middle of an episode and ends, literally, in the middle of a sentence. To show why that in itself so tantalizing, let me first say a bit about what the Gospel is (at least that part of it we still have!).
The Gospel of Peter comes from one of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries of Christian texts in the nineteenth century. In the winter season of 1886-87, a French archaeological team headed by M. Grébant was digging in Akhmîm in Upper Egypt, in a portion of a cemetery that contained graves ranging from the eighth to the twelfth centuries CE. They uncovered the grave of a person they took to be a Christian monk, who had been buried with a book. Among other things, the book contained a fragmentary copy of a Gospel written in the name of Peter.
It is a parchment manuscript (P. Cair. 10759) of sixty-six pages, averaging 13 x 16 cm, containing a small anthology of four texts in Greek, all of them fragmentary (the manuscript itself is not fragmentary; the works copied into it are incomplete): the Gospel of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, First Enoch, and the Martrydom of St. Julian. The first page is adorned with a cross; the second page starts, at the top, frustratingly, in the middle of a sentence (or at least an episode): “…but none of the Jews washed his hands, nor did Herod or any of his judges. Since they did not wish to wash, Pilate stood up.”
Whoa! That’s where it *starts*. Obviously …
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