Jesus Sources Outside the New Testament: The Gospel of Peter

At the Palais des Nations in Geneva on September 2, 1983, Yasir Arafat espoused a seemingly unique interpretation of the Christian Bible.

We were under Roman imperialism. We sent a Palestinian fisherman, called St. Peter, to Rome. He not only occupied Rome, but also won the hearts of the people. We know how to resist imperialism and occupation. Jesus Christ was the first Palestinian fedayin who carried his sword along the path on which the Palestinians today carry their Cross.

The Muslim traditions are very comfortable with a militant Jesus and Peter.  They preserve Eastern Christians traditions about Jesus and his less than peaceful apostles.

Insights from the Gospel of Peter:

On the Upper Nile River valley’s eastern bank is the ancient Egyptian site of Akhmimin. The lost Gospel of Peter was found in a Monk’s tomb in 1884 and contains
an account of disciples suspected of some strange crimes:

 And I and my companions were grieved; and being wounded in mind we hid ourselves: for we were being sought for by them as malefactors, and as wishing to set fire to the temple.

As portrayed by the Gospel writer, Peter and his companion were in the eyes of the Roman occupiers in the same class as the men who were crucified with the Messiah. This takes on new meaning when examined against the canonical Gospels and similar
statements that they make about Jesus and his followers.

What is amazing is the reference to a plan to burn the Temple. It would seem difficult, even impossible to believe that any rational person would ever contemplate this. Unfortunately, fanaticism can drive people to do savage things, even to their sacred
places.

The Implications of the Gospel of Peter and the First Jewish Revolt:

The Gospel of Peter places the blame for the crucifixion upon the Priests and Rabbis and excuses Pontius Pilate of any culpability. Again, what is so amazing about the passage we looked at earlier is the feature about disciples being charged with plotting to burn the Temple. Even more amazing is how well it matches up with the accounts of the Roman historians who classify the early Christians as lestai (bandits,
assassins).

Tacitus in his Histories  states tha the Christians were killed for allegedly committingacts of arson, starting the famous fire during the reign of Nero in 64 CE. The historian Suetonius in his history of the emperor Claudius mentions a group he calls impulsore chresto (messianic insurgents) who hadcaused rioting in Rome. Claudius redeployed thousands of Roman troops in several legions to guard facilities like the port at Ostia outside of Rome from arson and sabotage.

 

Roman fears were on target. The Christian individuals in the canonical gospels are closely associated with zealots, and the individuals in the Gospel of Peter are suspected of zealot-like activities.  Josephus described this “philosophy” well, and by using our “Josephus Test,” these individuals should be considered zealots because of the many reputable reports of their close association with and activities like those of Zealots and the Sicarii.

In a very interesting passage, the Roman Christian historian Severus quotes from volume five of Tacitus’ Histories. This volume was lost, so only quotations from other extant authors who preserve sections of it exist. In his description of the siege of the Temple in 70 CE, the Roman general Titus calls a staff meeting. He throws open the question of whether or not to destroy the Temple. He favored doing it and advocated this because the Temple was the ultimate source of inspiration for both the Jews and the christiani, the term that early Hebrew Christians called themselves.

Whether Titus set the fire first or the Zealots did is not completely clear. Like the Branch Davidian siege 2000 years later, the results clear. The Gospel of Peter indicates that such an idea existed in Zealot theology. The destruction of the Temple severed the link between Christianity and Judaism forever, completely transforming what had been a sect of Judaism into a completely new religion.

Bibliography:

Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, Herford, R. Travers. Ktav Publishing House, New York, 1975, reprint of 1903 edition.

Jesus and the Zealots, SGF Brandon. Scribners, New York, 1967.

The Jewish Time Line Encyclopedia, Kantor, Mattis. Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, NJ, 1992.

Josephus, the Jewish War, Trans. G. A. Williamson, Penguin, 1959.

The Illustrated History of the Jewish People, ed. Nicholas Lange. Key Porter Books, 1997. “The Making of the Diaspora, Oded Irshai.

The Bible translation used is the King James.

Laupot, Eric. Tacitus’ Fragment 2: The Anti-Roman Movement of the Christiani and the Nazoreans. Vigiliae Christianae 54, no. 3 (2000) 233-47

The Lost Books of the Bible, Crown Publishers, New York, 1979

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