The Gospel of Peter

© 2005 Dr. Barbara Thiering (June, 2005)

A work called the Gospel of Peter has been known since the 19th century and classed with New Testament Apocrypha. It is of special interest for the case that Jesus survived the crucifixion.

It was found in 1886 in the tomb of an Egyptian monk at Akhmim in Upper Egypt, together with the Apocalypse of Peter and the Greek Book of Enoch. The manuscript itself is of the 8th-9th century, but it is agreed that the work existed very much earlier, possibly 1st century.

Here are some selections from it concerning the crucifixion and resurrection, which may be seen to show knowledge of the true facts as preserved in the monasteries, with some supernaturalistic embellishments, and with some retention of the surface statements in order to maintain the centrality of Jesus.

"But of the Jews none washed their hands, neither Herod nor any one of his judges. And as they would not wash, Pilate arose. And then Herod the king commanded that the Lord should be marched off, saying to them, 'What I have commanded you to do to him, so do.'"

"Now it was midday and a darkness covered all Judea. And they became anxious and uneasy lest the sun had already set, since he was still alive...And one of them said, 'Give him to drink gall with vinegar'. And they mixed it and gave him to drink." [Note. On the basis of Psalm 69:21 (Psalm 68:22) LXX which is being alluded to, gall (cholē) was a term for poison. In the surface account of Matthew 27:34, Jesus was offered wine mixed with gall at 9 a.m. when he was first put on the cross, but when he had tasted it he refused it. This narrative shows explicitly that he was offered the poison mixed with vinegar (spoiled wine) at the last minute, whereas the canonical gospel account speaks only of the "vinegar" at the later hour.]

"And then the Jews drew the nails from the hands of the Lord and laid him on the earth." [ Not nails from the feet - he was able to walk when he left the cave]

"But I mourned with my fellows, and being wounded in heart we hid ourselves, for we were sought after by them as evildoers and as persons who wanted to set fire to the temple. Because of all these things we were fasting and sat mourning and weeping night and day until the Sabbath". [ The sabbath began on Friday evening. ]

"Early in the morning, when the Sabbath dawned, there came a crowd from Jerusalem and the country round about to see the sepulchre that had been sealed. Now in the night in which the Lord's day dawned..." [ The Jewish sabbath began again on the Saturday morning. It was very early on that morning that Jesus left the cave. The observance of the "resurrection" was transferred to the Sunday, the Lord's day, in order to separate the Christian from the Jewish observance.]

"Now in the night in which the Lord's day dawned, when the soldiers...were keeping guard, there rang out a loud voice in heaven, and they saw the heavens opened and two men come down from there in a great brightness and draw nigh to the sepulchre. That stone which had been laid against the entrance to the sepulchre started of itself to roll and gave way to the side, and the sepulchre was opened, and both the young men entered in....While (the soldiers) were relating what they had seen, they saw again three men come out from the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other, and a cross following them, and the heads of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was led of them by the hand overpassing the heavens." [According to the surface narrative Peter and the Beloved Disciple entered the tomb and found it empty. According to the pesher they did find Jesus there, and a few hours later, when he was sufficiently recovered from the expulsion of the poison, they helped him leave it. He could walk, but leaned on them because he was still weak. This narrative preserves the actual facts, with a supernatural embellishment.]

In addition to gospels, there are complete works in the form of history. Despite their own claims to come from the 1st century, these appear to be so different from the New Testament that they also have been assumed to be fanciful and late. It may now be seen, however, in the light of the pesher, that they give a reliable history of the period of the first apostles, one that fills in many of the missing facts.