The Development of the Canon of the New Testament
Apocalypse of Peter (Egypt, ~135 CE)
The Apocalypse of Peter is best known for its lurid descriptions of the punishments of hell. It is an outstanding an ancient example of that type of writing by means of which the pictorial ideas of Heaven and Hell were taken over into the Christian Church. In contrast to the Revelation of John which displays the final struggle and triumph of Jesus Christ, its interest no longer lies on the person of the Redeemer, but on the situation in the after-life, on the description of different classes of sinner, on the punishment of the evil and the salvation of the righteous. If the Apocalypse of Peter as a book lost its meaning in time, the ideas represented in it lived on in various ways -- Sybyllines II; Apocalypse of Paul; apocalypsis seu visio Mariae virginis; right up to the full tide of description in Dante's Divina Commedia.
For the identification of the Apocalypse of Peter and the assessment of its significance and influence, the citations in the Church Fathers are particularly important. Theophilus of Antioch (about 180 CE) alludes to a verse of the Akhmîm fragment (see below). Clement of Alexandria (before 215) twice quotes chapters 4 and 5. Methodius of Olympus (about 311) once quotes chapter 8. Macarius Magnes (about 400) quotes chapters 4 and 5 once each.
The full text has been known to us for only a century. During the excavations instigated by S. Grébaut in the winter of 1886/87 in cemetery A at al-Hawawis in the desert necropolis of Akhmîm, parchment leaves of the Greek version were discovered in the grave of a Christian monk. In addition to this fragment of text, some further unpaginated leaves were found with parts of the Book of Enoch and the Gospel of Peter. The three texts, which are today in Cairo, are all from the same hand and were written in the 8th or 9th century. The Greek text, which occupies not quite half of the original book, was divided by Harnack into 34 verses. The identification of the text results from a quotation adduced by Clement of Alexandria in his Eclogae Propheticae.
The Ethiopic translation has been known since 1910. A. Dillmann had already referred to the extensive Ethiopic translation of the Corpus Clementinum, which may go back to the 7th-8th century. S. Grébaut finally published Pseudo-Clementine literature from MS No 51 of the Abbadie collection, and added a French translation. It was however M. R. James who, in a fundamental study, first succeeded in classifying the Ethiopic text correctly.
We do not know the original text of the Apocalypse, the Greek and Ethiopic texts frequently diverge from each other.
The earliest possible date of origin can be determined through the date of 4 Esdras -- about 100 CE -- which was probably used in the Apocalypse of Peter and 2 Peter, the priority of which was demonstrated by F. Spitta. The latest possible date, using the quotations of Theophilus above, is 180. We thus come, with H.Weinel, if in interpreting the parable of the fig-tree in c. 2 we also relate the Jewish Antichrist who persecutes the Christians to Bar Chocba, to approximately the year 135 as the probable time of origin.
The Apocalypse presumably came into being in Egypt (c.f. Clement); the reference to Egyptian worship of animals also points in this direction. In this connection however we must refer above all to the ancient Egyptian Peter tradition. Starting from a first rendering into Coptic, the Ethiopic translation probably came into being - as usual - through Arabic versions. To this extent our Ethiopic text, linguistically not altogether unexceptional, is only the last in a series, with all the imponderables that entails.
In its description of heaven and hell the Apocalypse draws on the Orphic-Pythagorean mystery religions. The motif of the river of fire, certainly goes back to ancient Egypt. The ideas of the last judgment, the resurrection of the dead, the destruction of the world by fire, etc., are to be traced back, through the medium of Jewish Apocalyptic (the Book of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, Wisdom of Solomon, etc.) to oriental origins.
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