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A Third Forgery in the Name of Peter

As I mentioned in the two previous posts, in my talk at Unity Village the other night, I introduced my discussion of whether there could be forgeries in the New Testament by introducing three forgeries from *outside* the New Testament; the first was the Gospel of Peter with its giant Jesus and walking-talking cross at the resurrection and the second was the letter of Peter to James in which he attacks “the man who is my enemy,” a transparent reference to the apostle Paul. The third is the one I’ll mention here: another book allegedly, but not really, written by Peter, this time an apocalypse, the Apocalypse of Peter.

As it turns out we have three “apocalypses” allegedly written by Peter. The one I dealt with in my talk is the most famous of the three, one discovered in 1886, in the same book in which the Gospel of Peter is found. It is a 66-page book that contains four texts. In some ways the Apocalypse of Peter is the most interesting. It is the first surviving account we have in which an author tells of his guided tour of heaven and hell. In this case the author is “Peter” and his guide is Jesus himself.

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Moving from the Faith
Another Forgery in the Name of Peter



  1. Avatar
    RyanBrown  April 8, 2013

    I still can’t quite grasp why the Gospels were written anonymously. What is the prevailing theory? Why did the authors not attempt to pass themselves off as disciples by stating so at the beginning of their writings?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2013

      Well, I’m not sure what the consensus view is. I have my own view, that I’ll post sometime soon.

  2. Avatar
    FrancisDunn  April 8, 2013

    *IF* Jesus came to the poorest of the poor, I don’t believe any of them could read or write. They would have all they could do to survive; fishing, farming, manual labor. Reading and writing for the population is something new within the last 200 years. My grand parents on both sides (born in the 1860+ Ireland and Hungary) were not readers or writers. They depended on their children for that. I don’t think people today realize this since today it is common place.

  3. Avatar
    andyPark  April 9, 2013

    Hi Bart! I have a couple questions.

    1) For a student that wants to learn more about the Gospel of Peter and The Apocalypse of Peter, what is a good translation that I can find for these books (I don’t see them in the Harper Collins Study Bible)?
    2) What sorts of insight do the two aforementioned books provide in terms of what this particular Christian community was like? Are there any good references on the subject?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2013

      You can get copies in my book Lost Scriptures. I have a bit of analysis of both of them in my book Forged; that may haelp with your second quesiton.

  4. Avatar
    oatz01  April 9, 2013

    A bit(a lot)off topic:
    Can the criterion of multiple attestation be applied to the NT if it all goes back to an core of oral tradition? Do you think different cores of tradition sprung up and merged over time? Keep up the good work on the blog!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2013

      Yes, that’s the problem. Something being multiply attested does not make it original: it simply makes it older than both of its independent witnesses.

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  April 11, 2013

        Bart, speaking of oral traditions: given that there was no original text to compare the stories to how would people know the story hasn’t changed over time? And even the people telling these oral stories could forget parts, mix things up unintentionally, etc and it would be impossible for them to ‘look up’ the details?

        Maybe you could do a post on ‘ancient media’ at some point (if that’s part of your expertise)? We are all so used to having everything at our fingertips that it’s hard for us to imagine how oral traditions would work, how tedious and time consuming it was to manually copy a text, etc. Just a thought.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 11, 2013

          Yes, I may do this. I’m thnking about eventually writing a book on oral tradition in oral cultures, since it is so widely misunderstood.

  5. Avatar
    RichardToothman  April 9, 2013

    Dr. Ehrman,

    What about the book of Revelation? Was it forged also? I am also curious to know whether or not we have multiple manuscripts of Revelation that don’t agree with each other. I know the book of Revelation is kinda of unique considering it is one of the only books that actually warns against anyone adding or taking away from it. Did this motivate the scribes to take heed when making copies?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2013

      Well, the author calls himself John, but gives no indication *which* John he was; so I would call it homonymous — written in the name of a person who was also famous, by someone who had the same name. As it turns out, the warning about copying did not seem to make scribes overly scrupulous about copying it.

  6. talitakum
    talitakum  April 9, 2013

    If I’m not wrong the epistles of Peter and the six epistles of Paul are described with technical terms such as “pseudepigrapha”. Are there example of this practice outside Biblical texts (e.g. classic text)?

    I also heard that in some cases pseudepigraph texts were written by people who belonged to the same “school of thought” of the supposed author, they were his disciples, so they falsely used his name cause they were writing, so to say, “on his behalf” (maybe after his death) to continue his teachings. Are there examples of such practice?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2013

      Yes, there are lots of pseudepigrapha. And no, the idea of the “same school of thought” is almost certainly wrong. I show why in my books Forged (for lay readers) and Forgery and Counterforgery (more in depth, for scholars).

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