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Forgery and the Gospel of Peter

So in my talk on forgery last night, I introduced the question of whether there could be forgeries inside the New Testament by talking about forgeries that definitely exist *outside* the New Testament; and to do that I began by speaking of three books that Peter, the disciple of Jesus, allegedly wrote.   My definition of forgery is a fairly technical one.  When I speak about forgery I’m not talking about books whose contents have been made up or fabricated, and I’m not talking about books whose contents have been falsified and modified over the years.   I’m talking purely about authorial claims.  A forgery is a book whose author claims to be a (famous) person when in fact he is someone else – and he knows full well he is someone else.   If some writes a book claiming to be Paul, but in fact he is not Paul, that’s a forgery.

The phenomenon was widely known, widely practiced, and widely condemned in antiquity, as I’ve talked about on this blog before.

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Another Forgery in the Name of Peter
Fuller Account of Resurrection Discrepancies



  1. Avatar
    FrancisDunn  April 5, 2013

    Are you referring to the gospel with the talking cross?….I saw a episode on the History Channel; forbidden books of the bible II.

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    toejam  April 6, 2013

    I’ve recently been thinking that the greek gospels were written primarily because Jerusalem had fallen (and thus probably also the original Jerusalem Church), and the churches outside of Jerusalem (which were mostly gentile) needed clarification on doctrine and Jesus’ teachings. So the gospels were written with a very ‘Pauline’ emphasis, but preserving the basics of the story.

    • Avatar
      Ron  April 7, 2013

      The Jerusalem Church did start dispersing sometime after James was stoned to death in 62 CE into the countryside of Pella (cf. http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/cbrfj/church-jerusalem_bruce.pdf). However, it continued even under dispersion under members of James’ family until about the 7th century, according to Prof. Bruce. They were considered heretics by orthodox Christians and, of course, apostates by the orthodox Jews.

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    Mikail78  April 6, 2013

    Hope you’re having a good time in Kansas City, Bart! Eat some BBQ for me! 🙂 For some reason, William Lane Craig loves to mention the gospel of Peter and it’s fantastic account of Jesus’s resurrection. I could be wrong, but I think he’s trying to imply that this shows the canonical gospels can be trusted verses the BS in non canonical gospels. Again, I could be wrong about Craig’s motivation for him frequently mentioning the gospel of Peter.

    OK, I have a question. I’ve heard evangelical Christian apologists make the argument that the new testament canonical gospels really were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, because the earliest manuscripts of these gospels have them attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, like we have today. What do you think of this argument?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 7, 2013

      The problem is that the “earliest” Gospels that make these attributions are writing after the proto-orthodox (starting with Irenaeus) had identified the books as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, so I’m not sure how much that helps us. The books were almost certainly circulating anonymously earlier — otherwise it’s hard to explain why they are never attributed when quoted (e.g., by Justin in 150 CE).

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        Ron  April 7, 2013

        Most of us know that you distrust Jerome in his account of the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew (cf. “Lives of Illustrious Men,” Ch. 3). And, if he is distrusted on knowing that the gospel was written by Matthew (Levi), that it was “preserved until the present day in the library at Caesarea,” that he saw it, made a copy of it, etc., he can’t be trusted on probably anything else he said, correct? If Jerome’s account is a blatant lie, then, of course, Matthew would have been “circulating anonymously” since he is apparently not attributed by the earliest Fathers. I wonder what Pope Francis and his predecessors would say about the character and veracity of Jerome and the Latin Vulgate.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 8, 2013

          I don’t think Jerome had any way of knowing whether Matthew was circulating anonymously three hundred years before his own day. But his comments on such things are taken very gingerly indeed by scholars of Jerome (I’m not one of them), as you can see by reading up in the field.

          • Avatar
            Ron  April 9, 2013

            You said earlier, “It is an interesting question why the earlier Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written anonymously. Why didn’t their authors tell us who they were?” My response was that Jerome knew that the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew was written by him (so he says), not anonymously, because he had seen it, copied it, etc. So, it wasn’t circulating anonymously if it found its way to Caesarea with Matthew identified as the author. It appears that the Hebrew copy was never used by Jerome probably because of corruption by the Ebionites, but that’s another matter.

            Another point is that if Jerome had no way of knowing if Matthew was circulating anonymously during the 1st century, there is certainly no way we moderns can know either. But, this is precisely what is being pronounced by you, despite the fact that we have no Greek texts of that century to prove it. What we do have is Jerome attributing the author as Matthew, probably because his name was attached. Either it’s true or false; if it’s the latter, then it’s not a matter of simply taking his comment gingerly.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2013

            Well, you may want to read up on the scholarship on this. You might start with A. F. J. Klijn, The Jewish Christian Gospel Traditions.

            (Surely you don’t think that Jerome had access to Matthew’s original copy! For one thing, Matthew was originally written in Greek. I don’t know a single scholar in the field — as you know, there are thousands — who thinks differently. But maybe there is one some place!)

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    David Chumney  April 6, 2013

    In his book The Cross that Spoke, Dominic Crossan has suggested that there are three distinguishable strata in the Gospel of Peter, the earliest of which he refers to as the “Cross Gospel.” From my reading, it seems that few have found his case convincing. What do you think?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 7, 2013

      Yes, it’s a very clever thesis anda smart book; but I’m afraid it has not won many converts (I know of only one).

  5. Avatar
    Wilusa  April 6, 2013

    This makes me think of your saying you never look at TV documentaries in which you’ve participated. Good for your blood pressure! The other night National Geographic reran a program on the Gospel of Judas – the copyright date was 2006, and I’m pretty sure I’d seen it then. But I think this feature was newly added: throughout the program they had what might be called parenthetical comments pop up in little boxes on the screen. Some mildly humorous, some truly informative. But…seconds after you were shown explaining that the four Canonical Gospels were written anonymously, one of their little blurbs told viewers the Apostle John wrote the Gospel According to John, some Epistles, and Revelation!

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    veryrarelystable  April 6, 2013

    If you continue with this theme, I’d like your critique of Mark Goodacre’s suggested conjectural emendation of the Gospel of Peter’s “the cross” to “the crucified one”?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 7, 2013

      I’ll get to that when I start obsessing with the Gospel of Peter in detail, once I’m finished with obsessing on How Jesus Became God. Short story is, I’m not persuaded. But you’ll want more than that!

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    RonaldTaska  April 6, 2013

    I look forward to the “later” posts about why the authors of the Gospels did not tell us who they were. I think you have quoted some of the fantastic parts (the giant Jesus and the talking cross) described in the Gospel of Peter in your earlier blogs and I have read about such descriptions in some of your other writings, but it had not registered with me that this is the only Gospel describing the actual Resurrection and the only Gospel in which the author actually describes himself. How interesting. Of course, you have written elsewhere about Peter being illiterate and unable to write Greek and I suppose the Gospel of Peter was written in Greek.

  8. talitakum
    talitakum  April 6, 2013

    So why calling the fragment recently discovered as part of “Gospel of Jesus’ wife”? Has it been written by jesus’ wife, or is it just for “sensationalism”?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 7, 2013

      It’s because Jesus speaks of “my wife” in it, and that’s the most unusual feature of the short text. So Harvard Professor Karen King, who published the text, called it that.

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    Xeronimo74  April 6, 2013

    Looking forward to the answers to the questions mentioned at the end of your article!

    As for this Gospel: if it had been such common knowledge (among believers) that the ‘risen Christ’ appeared to people in Jerusalem then why would this late Gospel not mention this and make it sound like the Apostles, presumably, only saw the ‘risen Christ’ in Galilee (as Mark seems to suggest as well)? And why would two different strands have evolved in the first place (one putting the appearances in Jerusalem, and one putting them in Galilee)?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 7, 2013

      Ah! In Luke the disciples are told not to leave Jerusalem, and Jesus appears ot them there, and only there. IN Acts that takes place over forty days before the ascension. In Matthew they are told to leave Jerusalem and go to Galilee, and it is there ,not Jerusalem, that Jesus appears to them. My view is that Matthew records the earlier traditoin. Historically, the disciples fled by going back home. Luke, though, has theological reasons for wanting it all to take place in Jerusalem, since salvation first comes to Jews, there, in the capital city, and proceeds outward from there to the ends of the earth.

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    Pofarmer  April 7, 2013

    Makes a person wonder how many different Gospel stories may have been out there floating around before the New Testament was canonized. How much material was out there that is now lost? Maybe the
    Catholics feel justified playing fast and loose with the New Testament?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 7, 2013

      You might want to look at the book Zlatko Plese and I did on the Apocryphal Gospels; or more broadly, my book Lost Scriptures.

      • Avatar
        Pofarmer  April 8, 2013

        THank you for the suggestion. I’ll add it to my long list. It’s hard work becoming a skeptic!

  11. Avatar
    Jim  April 7, 2013

    Since you are talking about the gospel of Peter, what better time to ask a question about John’s gospel. 🙂 I’ve been a bit curious about the gospel of John because of its difference from the synoptics. It is the last of the four written but may contain a few lines that represent very early oral tradition. In your book DJE, you reference D. Moody Smith’s John Among the Gospels. Would that book be a good place to start in getting a current synopsis on this gospel, or is there another reference that might be a better starting point for a novice like me?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 7, 2013

      Yup, that’s a good place to start. Also an earlier book by Robert Kysar, John the Maverick Gospel, is veyr good I think.

  12. Avatar
    Ron  April 10, 2013

    Bart, I’ve read Klijn’s book, and, as you probably know, he says “Matthean’ sources originated in a bilingual environment,” written in both Greek and Hebrew about the same time (p. 38). He doesn’t know for sure (no one does, despite your assertion) that the Greek appeared before the Hebrew version. If Eusebius is to be believed in his testimony about Papias, it could very well be that the Nazarenes had possession of the Hebrew before any Greek-speaking follower of Jesus had his copy.

    Just as you presume the Greek to be the original (of which you know doesn’t exist), you presume that whatever copies were circulating during the 1st and 2nd-centuries were anonymously written. None of us knows this, not even Jerome you say, but you insist that the author of Matthew was someone else. We are left to our beliefs now on whether the 1st-century Christians knew for a fact that Matthew (Levi) was the author, and I believe he was. I’m not as convinced with the other gospel writers.

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