Two Texts Called The Apocalypse of Peter

Christianity has a long tradition of ominous and apocalyptic literature, prophesying the end times, such as the Apocalypse of Esdras, the Apocalypse of Paul, and the Passion of Saint Perpetua. Of course, there is also the controversial Apocalypse (or “Revelation”) of John that was included among the biblical canon after great controversy in the early Christian era. We can also see the seeds of these works among the Hebrew scriptures, like the books of Daniel and Isaiah.

In the brief text of the Apocalypse of Peter, we find Peter sitting with Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus issues a blessing and then a group comes to attack Jesus and Peter. So Jesus tells Peter to cover his eyes with his hands and robe and tell Jesus what he sees. Suddenly, Peter sees a great light come down upon Jesus, and he begins to describe what he sees. Jesus delivers a lengthy diatribe about things to come and offers a lesson as a sacred “mystery” to Peter about the blind people of this world. The text focuses on divine rewards and punishments in heaven and hell, further harmonizing Greek or Hellenistic interpretations of the afterlife with Christian views of the “kingdom of heaven.”

Apparently, this text was popular among the Arabic and Ethiopian Christian communities. Clement of Alexandria accepted the Apocalypse of Peter as canonical. There are two surviving fragments of an Apocalypse of Peter, and both are incredibly distinct and divergent. They are nearly two texts. In the additional version, we receive a fragment that offers a clear portrayal of Jesus with his disciples out in the mountains. He gives them a vision of heaven, filled with light and glorious people, and hell, complete with people hanging by their tongues and their hair and people being eaten by worms and people being hurled off cliffs and a lake of blood and other cruel punishments.

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