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Insights from 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 portrays the early Christians

as a terrorist movement. In this work, he states that

the Christians were killed for allegedly committing

acts 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 had

caused 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.