Monday, September 06, 2010

Paul Foster: The Gospel of Peter - 1

Paul Foster
The Gospel of Peter: Introduction and Commentary
Leiden: Brill, 2010.
Texts and Editions for New Testament Study 4
Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Wendy Porter.

Blurb: Since its discovery in 1886/87 there has been no full-scale English-language treatment of the Gospel of Peter. This book rectifies that gap in scholarship by discussing a range of introductory issues and debates in contemporary scholarship, providing a new critical edition of the text and a comprehensive commentary. New arguments are brought forward for the dependence of the Gospel of Peter upon the synoptic gospels. The theological perspectives of the text are seen as reflecting second-century popular Christian thought. This passion account is viewed as a highly significant window into the way later generations of Christians received and rewrote traditions concerning Jesus.

Interview with Paul Foster:

1. What are the textual witnesses to the Gospel of Peter?

This is not an uncontroversial question. Prior to 1886 there were no known surviving manuscripts of the Gospel of Peter. Then in a winter season dig of 1886/87 at Akhmîm in upper Egypt a team of French archaeologists unearthed a small parchment codex interred in a grave. This codex contained four incomplete texts. The first, occupying pages 2-10, began and ended mid sentence, and was otherwise unknown. However, because it was a gospel-like passion and resurrection account, and since the first person narrator of this account is presented as being Peter, scholars were quick to identify this text as a fragment of the Gospel of Peter. This text had previously been known only from Patristic references to its title or a description given by Eusebius of its use at Rhossos. While the identification of the Akhmîm as being part of the Gospel of Peter is an inference, it is a plausible hypothesis.

This remained the only suggested manuscript of the Gospel of Peter until the 1970s. Then the Oxyrhynchus project published two pieces of papyrus catalogued as P.Oxy. 2949. The larger of the two fragments has some textual overlap with the Gos. Pet. 2.3-5, but also more of the surviving text deviates from the Akhmîm parallel. This partial overlap led Dieter Lührmann to posit that P.Oxy. 2949 was an early witness to the Gospel of Peter. Since then he has also suggested that P.Oxy. 4009, and P.Vindob.G 2325 are textual witnesses to the Gospel of Peter. However, since there is no overlap between these texts and Akhmîm text, and neither self-identifies as the Gospel of Peter, I am hesitant to consider any of these fragments as textual witness to the Gospel of Peter. So for me there is only one likely textual witness to the Gospel of Peter and that is the first text in the codex discovered at Akhmîm, which probably dates to some time from the late 6th to early 9th century.

2. What do you think of Dieter Luhrmann's attempt to date textual traditions of the Gospel of Peter to the second century?

In a word, ‘unconvincing’! While I think that the Gospel of Peter probably originated in the second half of the second century, my assessment would be that we having no manuscript fragments from the second or third centuries. For those who wish to disagree with me, the place to start is with P.Oxy. 2949, since there is some partial overlap with a small part of the Akhmîm text. However, those who wish to see P.Oxy. 2949 as an early fragment of the Gospel of Peter should also account for its divergences from the Akhmîm text form. As I have noted elsewhere, Lührmann’s reconstruction of P.Oxy. 2949 produces a text of 238 letters of which only 44 are shared with the alleged parallel section of text in the Akhmîm codex, or 18.49% of correspondence. There may be some relationship between these two texts, such as parallel forms of a similar tradition, but with over 80% divergence suggesting that they are witnesses to the same text appears problematic. There are numerous parallels between the synoptic gospels that have a far greater degree of textual affinity, but the parallel versions belong to different gospel accounts.

With the other fragments the case is far, far weaker. Lührmann identifies P.Oxy. 4009 as a witness to the Gospel of Peter by using a highly convoluted argument that employs 2 Clement 5.2-4 as a middle term. The details of this argument are complex and highly speculative. Perhaps it is sufficient to note that there is no overlap between P.Oxy. 4009 and the Akhmîm text, Peter is never mentioned in P.Oxy. 4009, and that it is a highly fragmentary text. The identification is based on the way Lührmann reconstructs the text, and it is questionable whether identification should be based on reconstruction rather than those letters actually present on the papyrus. The case of P.VindobG 2325 is weaker still. This fragment preserves a parallel account of the cock-crow story know from Mark 14.27-30. Most scholars read the fragment as a third person narrative because of its affinities to the Markan text. By contrast, Lührmann forces the texts to become a first person narrative due to the way he introduces first person pronouns into his reconstruction. He then concludes that since this text refers to Peter and is a first person narrative, it shares these features with the Akhmîm text and must consequently be a hitherto unknown part of the text. The Akhmîm text itself has no account of the cock-crowing story, perhaps because its starts too late with the end of trial before Pilate.

Methodologically, Lührmann’s arguments appear flawed because he reconstructs texts to produce the results he wishes to see. Also, without any textual overlap with the Akhmîm text, P.Oxy. 4009 and P.VindobG 2325 are claimed to be parts of the Gospel of Peter that did not survive in the Akhmîm fragment. This would appear to be beyond proof.

3. What is the relationship between the Gospel of Peter and the canonical Gospels (esp. in light of J.D. Crossan's proposal)?

The issue of The Relationship Between the Gospel of Peter and the canonical Gospels has been "vigorously Debated at all stages of scholarly investigation of this text Since its discovery, with scholars Arguing That It Is Either independent of the canonical gospels or depend upon 'em.J.D. Crossan offered a creative break-through by suggesting a third way, namely that the Gospel of Peter in its final form is dependent on the canonical Gospels, but has embedded in it is an early source, ‘the Cross Gospel’ (perhaps the near pun on Crossan’s name was intended) and this was earlier than the canonical accounts and was in fact used by them as a source for their accounts of the Passion and resurrection. While postulating this third possibility was a brilliant hypothesis, when one examines the contents of the ‘Cross Gospel’ the forms of the traditions it contains still appear to be later than the parallels in the canonical accounts. In the commentary section of my book I spend significant space discussing the tradition history of various pericopae and showing how they align with concerns of second century Christianity. In the end Crossan's hypothesis Remains more bright Than persuasive.


Peter M. Head said...

So what is the story on the publisher? On Paul's own web-site it is listed as OUP (, and I thought it was part of the Oxford project on Noncanonical Gospels.

Tim said...

It is being published by Brill. Paul told me a while ago that the publisher was changing from OUP to Brill. I'm really looking forward to reading this, since I recently finished my dissertation on the Gospel of Peter.