Page images

12. The Gospel of Peter. By Dr. JAMES MARTINEAU.

(“Nineteenth Century,' June, 1893.) 13. The Primitive Gospel. By E. J. Dillon. ("Contem

temporary Review, June, 1893.) 14. Die Composition des Pseudopetrinischen Evangelien

Fragments. Von Dr. HANS VON SCHUBERT. (Berlin,

1893.) 15. The Akhmîm Fragment of the Apocryphal Gospel of St.

Peter. By H. B. SWETE, D.D. (London, 1893.)

In our last number we gave some account of the principal documents throwing light on the early history of the Christian Church that have come to light during the last five years, but we had not space then to give any detailed account of the last discovered, but not the least important, of them—the manuscript containing fragments of two works ascribed to the Apostle Peter, and known to have had some circulation in professedly Christian communities before the end of the second century. We were barely able to announce this discovery in our January number, and we have now to fulfil the promise which we then made, that we would lay before our readers some fuller description of the new find, and some attempt to estimate its value.

1. The Manuscript. The new discovery was made known by M. Bouriant in the ninth volume of the Mémoires of the French Archæological Mission at Cairo, published toward the end of the year 1892. This volume contains a description of two manuscripts found in the winter of 1886–7 in the ancient Christian cemetery of Akhmim (Panopolis) in Upper Egypt. The greater part of the volume is occupied with a description of that one of the two manuscripts which deals with mathematics, from which we learn, in their most improved form, the old Egyptian methods of dealing with mathematical problems. Few except those who have had some professional interest in studying the history of mathematics are aware how much we owe to the Arabic arithmetical notation, now universal, and what difficulties the ancient mathematicians felt when asked to deal in the old cumbrous notation with problems concern. ing the addition and subtraction of fractions which children in all our good schools are now taught how to solve. This mathematical manuscript appears to have been that which had most interest for the French scholars, for they gave not only a full description, but a facsimile reproduction, of the text, while they did not at first honour the companion theological manuscript with anything of the kind. We can scarcely VOL. XXXVI.--NO. LXXII.


be wrong in ascribing to want of appreciation of the value of the discovery the unexplained delay of five years in the announcement of it. And when at length publication came, the place of honour in the account of the second manuscript was given to fragments of the Book of Enoch which it contains, while the two Christian documents, the Gospel and Apocalypse of Peter, were relegated to a kind of appendix. However, the stir made in the theological world by the discovery was such that the necessity has been felt of giving students more ample information, and they have now been put in possession of a facsimile reproduction of the second manuscript also. .

The mathematical manuscript is papyrus, but the theological consists of thirty-three parchment leaves bound together, the size of the pages being about 6 inches by 44. The manuscript is not dated, but Bouriant's judgment, on palæographical grounds, is that it is not earlier than the eighth century nor later than the twelfth. He confirms this conclusion by an argument drawn from the consideration that the cemetery at Akhmim, which had been in use from the fifth to the fifteenth century, stretches for a length of about 700 metres, and that the tomb where our manuscripts were found is about 200 metres from what would seem to have been the beginning of the interments.

The contents of the sixty-six pages are as follows :—The first is an ornamental page, containing a Coptic cross with the letters A, 12; then follow nine pages containing the fragment of the Gospel according to St. Peter; then three blank pages; then seven pages containing the fragment of the Apocalypse of Peter ; the remainder of the volume contains two distinct fragments of the Book of Enoch. It appears from this description that the fragmentary condition of the documents which it contains does not arise from any dilapidation of the existing manuscript, but because the scribe had never copied any more. And the fact that the portion of the Gospel which he preserved breaks off in the middle of a sentence shows that he did not copy a selected portion from a book the whole of which was in his possession, but that he merely copied for preservation a leaf or leaves which were in a fragmentary condition when he had them. This state of things evidently depresses our hopes that further research may obtain a supplement to the present find. If the scribe who made his transcript a thousand years ago was unable to com

This is also the case with respect to the celebrated Muratorian Fragment on the Canon.

plete his text, it is scarcely likely that we shall be more fortunate now. Again, we are not entitled to assume that there was any closer connexion between the works contained in our manuscript than that the fragments transcribed on it had probably belonged to the same library.

II. Our previous knowledge of the Gospel according to St. Peter. We are indebted to Eusebius for much of our knowledge of early Church writings now lost. He gives his opinion about the Gospel of St. Peter (H. E. iii. 3) where he groups it with the Acts, the Preaching, and the Revelation of Peter, as not to be classed with either the First, or even the Second, Epistle, because no Church writer, either of former days or his own, had used testimonies from these writings--that is to say, had quoted them as authoritative. In another place (iii. 25) he favourably distinguishes the Apocalypse of Peter from the Gospel. The former (which, as other evidence proves, had far wider circulation than the Gospel ever obtained) he places with the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, and others, in the lowest class of disputed books, not canonical, but recognized by most Church writers. But he goes on to say that besides the writings in this class there are others forged by heretics in the names of Apostles, such as the Gospels of Peter, of Thomas, of Matthias, &c., the Acts of Andrew, of John, and other Apostles. These he rejects, not only because no Church writer has deemed them worthy of quotation, but also because the difference of their style from the apostolic character, and the discordance of their doctrine from true orthodoxy, clearly prove them to be heretical forgeries. Wherefore, he says, they are not to be classed among the vóba or disputed books, but to be rejected as absolutely absurd and impious.

Eusebius has preserved for us? one of the authorities which helped to form his judgment about this Gospel, and which, until the late discovery, furnished our best information as to its character. This is an extract from a letter written by Serapion, who was Bishop of Antioch (A.D. 190-203), to members of the Church of Rhossus in Cilicia. In order to evade discussions on questions of translation irrelevant to the present inquiry, we content ourselves with the translation of it given by Westcott in his History of the Canon of the New Testament, p. 390 :

We, brethren, receive both Peter and the other Apostles as Christ;2 but as experienced men we reject the writings falsely inscribed with their names, since we know that we did not receive such [from our 1 H. E. vi. 12.

* Matt. x. 40.

fathers). For when I visited you I supposed that all were attached to the right faith ; and as I had not thoroughly examined the Gospel which they brought forward under the name of Peter, I said: If this is the only thing which seems to create petty jealousies (μικροψυχίαν) among you, let it be read. But now, since I have learned, from what has been told me, that their mind was covertly attached to some heresy (aipérel TIVì évepólever), I shall be anxious to come to you again; so, brethren, expect me quickly. But we, brethren, having comprehended the nature of the heresy which Marcianus held-how he contradicted himself from failing to understand what he said, you will learn from what has been written you-were able to examine the book thoroughly, having borrowed it from others who commonly use (åorno ávrwv) this very gospel—that is, from the successors of those who first sanctioned it, whom we call Docetæ (for most of (Marcianus's] opinions belong to their teaching); and to find that the greater part of the contents agrees with the right doctrine of the Saviour, though some new injunctions ? are added in it which we have subjoined for your benefit.'

This extract suggests several points for discussion :

(1) Zahn will not admit that we are entitled to infer from this passage that the Gospel of St. Peter was ever read in the public service of the Church, and he supposes that the question Serapion had to decide was whether or not he would permit Christians to read it in private. But we cannot concur

books into the public reading of the Church, than that there was at that time episcopal interference with the private reading of Christians. Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, tinged with heresy, circulated very widely ; and some of the things told in them passed into popular Christian belief.

(2) On the other hand, we cannot accept Mr. Rendel Harris's representation that “the good people of Rhossus had been quietly reading a decidedly heretical Gospel, to which they were so much attached that they were unwilling to give it up, until the vigilance of Serapion detected and revealed its unorthodox character. It seems to us plain that, on the contrary, it was the vigilance of the leading presbyters

1 Robinson renders you all.' If we had to supply a pronoun, we should prefer they all ;' for it appears from the 'they' which immediately follows, that in the sentence preceding Eusebius's extract, Serapion had been speaking of patrons of this Gospel whom he does not identify with those whom he is addressing; and it is only in the case of these that he finds he had formed too favourable an opinion of their orthodoxy.

? Possibly we are not entitled to press the force of the word employed ; and the words may merely mean some things are added of which we subjoin a list.'

at Rhossus that stirred up the supineness of the bishop. Our view is that Serapion on his visit to Rhossus was called on to forbid the use of this Gospel by one or two Christian communities who had introduced it into their public reading ; that, not being aware that any question of doctrine was involved, he deprecated quarrels on such a subject, and permitted the use of the book. But, on its being further represented to him that the Gospel in question was one of heretical tendencies, he satisfied himself by investigation that the charge was justified; and made a cautionary list of the passages in which this book had added to the requirements of the Gospel. We so far agree with Zahn that we consider this cautionary list must have been specially intended to guard those who might meet with the book in their private reading.

(3) Professor Robinson in his edition has, mainly on the authority of the Armenian translation of Eusebius, changed the name Marcianus into Marcion; but on this point we cannot agree with him. No transcriber would have been likely to alter the well-known name Marcion into Marcianus ; but the converse change is very conceivable. Nothing forbids us to suppose that an otherwise unknown Marcianus may have headed an heretical movement in Cilicia ; but Marcion's whole attitude towards the elder Apostles makes it incredible that he would have taken under his patronage an alleged Gospel of Peter, and we know that in point of fact the Gospel of Marcion's sect was one which he framed himself on the basis of St. Luke's.

It is to be noted what small circulation this Gospel appears to have had. Serapion had evidently been unacquainted with it when it was shown to him at Rhossus; and when he afterwards desired to examine it more closely, he had difficulty in obtaining a copy, and was forced to borrow one from an heretical sect.

(4) We think it worth while to add that we regard it as an inaccuracy when Serapion's statement that this Gospel was used by the Docetæ is quoted in the form that he rejected it on account of its Docetism. The name 'Docetæ' has a much wider extension now than it had in the second century. The idea that our Lord's body was not real Aesh and blood was common to many of the early Gnostic sects; and in our modern language all who held this opinion might be described as Docetæ; but we have not seen any author earlier than Theodoret quoted as employing this name as a common title for those who held the opinions which we now characterize as Docetic. In the second century Docetæ appears to be the

« EelmineJätka »