"That we may know and understand": Gospel tradition in the Apocalypse of Peter

Robert C Helmer, Marquette University


A little over a century ago, archaeologists discovered fragments of the long lost Greek Apocalypse of Peter, until then only known from quotations in the writings of early Church fathers. Some twenty years later the full text of this apocalypse was identified in a portion of the Ethiopian pseudo-Clementine literature. For a couple of decades this document attracted some scholarly attention, but the past fifty years have seen it pushed to the background by some equally sensational discoveries such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. This dissertation seeks to re-establish the Apocalypse of Peter as an early (i.e., pre-150 CE) and exemplary attempt to use gospel traditions in support of a program of social and individual piety and ethics: In Chapter One I give a full review of scholarship and method. In Chapter Two I show that the dialogues of the first (chaps. 1-2) and third (chaps. 15-17) sections of the Apocalypse of Peter follow rather specific, and also rather different, dialogical conventions. In Chapter Three I investigate Apoc. Pet. 1:1-2:1. The subject matter entails the return of Christ. Here, as before, the Apocalypse of Peter has something to contribute over against its Matthean counterpart. In Chapter Four I set out the two levels of this pseudo-Petrine text: the first and basic level, which is principally concerned with ethics--the actual daily conduct of Christian men and women; and a secondary level, influenced by the Synoptic tradition, at which later concerns came to predominate, especially martyrdom. Finally, in Chapter Five I examine Apoc. Pet. 15-17. Here, as at the beginning, the true goal and intent of the dialogue is revealed. Far from presenting its early readers with a strict timetable, the Apocalypse of Peter appeals to a well-known sequence of apocalyptic events. And so this early Christian "apocalypse" is discovered to be at base an ethical treatise: a "tract for the times." This dissertation makes a contribution to the study of the Apocalypse of Peter itself, and to the understanding of early Christian apocalypticism.

Recommended Citation

Helmer, Robert C, ""That we may know and understand": Gospel tradition in the Apocalypse of Peter" (1998). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9901728.