Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tabor on the Gospel of Peter

James Tabor has written a post on his own views about the Gospel of Peter. He thinks that it contains an early chronology and other elements that should be taken into consideration when reconstructing a history of those final days in the life of Jesus. What do you think? Are there any elements in the Gospel of Peter that you think are "independent" of the synoptic stories and/or "early" as Crossan, and now Tabor, argue?


Leon said...

I would have to read the Gospel of Peter again to say whether there are any original details that could be separated out from later legends. The parts about Peter and others returning to their homes and work, and no immediate sightings of Jesus, sound very believable because they do not seem like the kind of things that one would make up later on. I think the immediate effect of Jesus' death was shock and disappointment, and this lasted a while before they felt the hope of resurrection.

But just to show how difficult all this is, here is a detail from Matt 28:1 that also makes sense given the historical context. The RSV translates this as the women coming to Jesus' tomb right after Shabbat "toward the dawn of the first day of the week". So everyone takes it to mean Sunday morning. But the Greek is literally "at the shining of day" which is a translation from Hebrew and in Hebrew, the shining of day means when the stars come out to shine, not when the sun comes out to shine. Thus, the women came on Saturday night when the sun set and the Jewish day begins.

That makes a lot fo sense. They would not anoint Jesus' body until Shabbat was over and given their love for him, they would do it as soon as Shabbat was over, i.e., when the sun set. They would not wait for Sunday morning.

William Tyndale, genius translator that he was, got it right, I think. He translated it as "sabbath day at even", which I think means at evening. I once read somewhere that Jerome got it right too. (The KJV changed Tyndale's "at even" to "dawn" which is why the RSV gets it wrong.) So Jesus being crucified on a Friday and dying late that day or into Saturday (i.e., Fri. night) fits with the women rushing to anoint his body when Shabbat was over. He must have died and been laid in a tomb when it was not possible to anoint his body immediately because of Shabbat. Listen to the text with Jewish ears of that time, and it is possible to notice things that have gone unnoticed for a very long time. (Tyndale was very conscious of what he called the Semitisms in the Greek. What a genius the guy was.)

Leon Zitzer

Leon said...

If I may, 2 brief corrections to the above. Tyndale referred to the Hebrew "left in the Greek words" (I must have been thinking of another writer's mention of Semiticisms in the Greek).

Tyndale did use the verb "dawneth" in Matt 28:1 — "the sabbath day at even which dawneth the morrow after the sabbath" (from David Daniell's modernized spelling edition). The KJV removed his "at even" and left the impression that what was dawning was Sunday morning. The point remains that Tyndale was right about the evening and the KJV was wrong.

Geoff Hudson said...

'I, Simon Peter, and my brother Andrew took our nets (presumably from Jerusalem) and went to the sea.' is almost as corny as it gets. But a walking talking cross led by two angelic beings takes the biscuit.

The whole imaginative fragment is so obviously based mostly on the content of the NT.

I think Tabor was right to highlight the phrase: "we were fasting and sat mourning and weeping night and day", but for the wrong reasons. The phrase does have a ring of truth about it, and may well reflect a tradition that filtered through orally. It is almost saying that the prophet was well and truly dead, and his fellow prophets mourned for quite a long period after his death. The long period of mourning is further supported by the phrase: "we hid ourselves, for we were sought after by them (the priests, note) as evildoers". Thus the resurrection never happened, and the empty tomb story was either a fabrication, or it was based on different but real events, which I believe it was.

Geoff Hudson said...

So the Sabbath referred to (7.27) would have been one week after the burial. The burial was just before the start of the previous Sabbath. The seven days of mourning were normal.

The women had previously taken food for the prophet at the end of that first Sabbath. What they didn't know was that the prophet had been tried and executed on the Friday. Thus the women were shown, not an empty tomb, but an empty prison cell.

James F. McGrath said...

One particular detail in the Gospel of Peter has long struck me as a sure sign the author had authentic early oral traditions passed down to him apart from or in addition to the canonical Gospels. The reference to the disciples being in hiding after Jesus' arrest because it was feared they would set fire to the temple surely would not have been invented by a Christian, and certainly not after the accusation that they had started the fire in Rome. This detail fits well the prominence of Jesus' prediction(s) about the temple's destruction and it is historically plausible. Isn't it best taken as a genuine authentic historical reminiscence that made it down the decades to this author?

I'll be posting this thought on my own blog at with a link back here.

Jim Deardorff said...

Something Tabor didn't mention is GPeter (14:2) has it that there were 12 disciples present soon after the crucifixion, not just eleven. So its author may not have believed that Judas Iscariot was a betrayer who committed suicide. This similarly occurs in the Coptic manuscript "Sophia Jesu Christi" (2nd verse), in the title to the tractate "The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles," in the Apocryphon of James (2:14), and twice in the Ascension of Isaiah.

Tabor's mention of the timing being such that the crucifixion took place on Thursday not Friday agrees with the Talmud Jmmanuel document I've studied.

Geoff Hudson said...

The threat to set fire to the temple (7.26) and Jesus's prediction of its destruction were both written with the knowledge of the temple's destruction. Thus the author's 'exceeding great signs have come to pass'(8.28).

The prophet's prediction was that 'not one stone would be left upon another'. I believe that this referred to the altar for animal sacrifices and that the prophet did indeed destroy that altar.

Jim Deardorf's point is very interesting to me because Judas receives no mention where the author had the perfect opportunity. Judas does not appear at all in the Gospel. But then amazingly, neither does Jesus. We automatically assume that 'Lord' means Jesus. So one might regard the document as semi-gnostic or docetic.

Jim Deardorff said...

Re Geoff's point, could there be another reason why Jesus' name is not mentioned, rather "Lord"? What if the man's name had been something else, namely Immanuel, with disputes occurring for a half century after Paul starting insisting that his name was Jesus rather than Immanuel? After Paul's view won out, then all writings that had called him Immanuel or had mentioned that name along with "Jesus" were blotted out. This would be to explain the dearth of writings other than Paul's in the latter 1st century, and that certain gnostics who knew his original name and preferred not to use his later name settled for calling him "Lord."

The main clue to support this conjecture concerns why the writer of Matthew would include a quote from Isaiah, saying his name would be Immanuel, in his 1st chapter as proof that the child was the Messiah if his name had not been Immanuel.

Leon said...


I don't think the fear that the disciples would set fire to the Temple is at all credible, not as a bit of historical information from Jesus' time and the days and weeks following his death. There is plenty of information in Acts that his followers continued to worship at the Temple. (Paul too goes to the Temple.) Of course they would. It was the established institution of its time.

Not to mention all of Jesus' positive statements about the Temple. Even the prediction that it would be destroyed is a sign of his love and veneration for the Temple. The destruction of the Temple would be a terrible thing and that is why he predicts it. No one would want to see the Temple destroyed. The purpose of Jewish prophecy is to prevent the undesirable event (by getting people to repent), not bring it about.

The idea that Jesus threatened the Temple is one of those bizarre ideas that have been imposed on the Gospel texts. It is pure theology, polemical theology, not history. Jesus himself would have wept at its destruction. And his followers would have joined right in.

Leon Zitzer