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Michael Kaler Burnfield Ave., Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M6G 1Y4 [email protected] Abstract In this article I di...


Vigiliae Christianae Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 264-295


The Letter of Peter to Philip and its Message of Gnostic Revelation and Christian Unity1 Michael Kaler Burnfield Ave., Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M6G 1Y4 [email protected]

Abstract In this article I discuss the Letter of Peter to Philip, one of the gnostic documents found in the Nag Hammadi collection, as well as in the recently published Codex Tchacos. In prior work on the Letter, questions have been raised with regard to its overall coherence, the precise nature of its relationship to the canonical book of Acts, and the reasons for including it in Nag Hammadi Codex VIII in late antiquity. In my response to these questions, I demonstrate that it is a coherent work; that it is solidly grounded in a specific (albeit somewhat fictional) historical context, namely that of Acts 7-8; and that its presence in codex VIII makes good sense given the codex’s underlying logic. The Letter has also been treated in the past as a Petrine document; I demonstrate that in fact it is extremely indebted to a Pauline view of revelation and enlightenment, drawing specifically on the account of Paul’s revelation in Acts 9. Thus in contrast to older views that saw the Letter as an incoherent, Petrine work making scattershot use of Lukan references and placed in codex VIII as “filler,” I demonstrate that it is a quite coherent, Pauline work that operates within a precise context in the Actsian historical plan, and that its presence in Codex VIII illuminates the logic underlying that codex’s arrangement. In all of this, my emphasis is firmly on the narrative aspects of the frame story part of the Letter, rather than privileging the content of the esoteric revelation delivered by Jesus, as has been done in the past. Keywords Gnosticism, Nag Hammadi, Petrine, Pauline, Acts, Revelation Dialogue, Codicology

Introduction The Letter of Peter to Philip (hereafter Letter) is an ancient gnostic text, extant in two versions. A very damaged version is found among the writings 1)

Support while this paper was written was provided by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada postdoctoral fellowship.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2009

DOI: 10.1163/157007208X377247

The Letter of Peter and its Message


contained in the recently published Codex Tchacos; another, considerably more complete version is found at the end of Nag Hammadi Codex VIII. We will be working with this latter version in what follows, except where otherwise noted. Although there are significant differences between the two versions, they do not affect the issues that we will be addressing here (at least, insofar as the Tchacos version is extant), with the exception of the very end of the Letter, discussed below, page 286. There was a flurry of interest in the Letter in the mid to late 1970s, when it first became widely accessible, with articles and studies published by such scholars as Hans-Gebhard Bethge, Klaus Koschorke, Jacques Ménard, Gerard Luttikhuizen, and Marvin Meyer (see the bibliography for details). These studies established the broad lines that research on the Letter—such as the later work of Bethge and Meyer, and the work of Judith Hartenstein, Antti Marjanen, among others—would generally follow. The Letter’s use of Luke/Acts and its composite nature have been topics of abiding interest, and its author’s irenic vision of a unified church that could include both gnostics and non-gnostics has often been noted. In what follows I will address these issues, and hopefully further illuminate this fascinating piece of gnostic literature. Finally, I will move from the Letter itself to one of its two known contexts of use, namely Nag Hammadi Codex VIII. Prior research has tended to understate the significance of its presence in this codex: I will attempt to provide a more nuanced discussion. Summary of the Plot The Letter begins, as its name suggests, with a letter from Peter to Philip, inviting Philip to come and join up with the rest of the apostles so that they can complete their preparations for teaching and spreading the word. Philip comes, rejoicing, and then he and the rest of the apostles go to the Mount of Olives. There they fall to their knees and pray for help and power “for they seek to kill us,” or “we are being sought after in order to be killed” (third person plural subject pronouns in Coptic can function as dummy subjects to signal passive voice). A great light appears, and out of it speaks the voice of Jesus Christ. In answer to the questions posed by the apostles, he reveals to them the (extremely gnostic and mythological) details of the origin of the universe, the powers that rule it, and his own salvific activity. The apostles are instructed that they will have to fight the “archons” and the “powers,” and the revelation ends.


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On the road back to Jerusalem, they discuss suffering, and a voice, presumably that of Jesus, reminds them of its inevitability. Having arrived in Jerusalem, they perform healings in the temple. Peter makes a confession of faith to his disciples, and prays for a spirit of understanding, which they receive. Then all the apostles perform healings. Jesus appears and gives them a benediction, and they go their separate ways to preach the word.

1. The Coherence of the Letter The first issue that I will address is that of the Letter’s coherence. In particular, there are three aspects of the Letter that have appeared to be incoherent in prior work on it. First, there is the issue of the relationship of Christ’s revelation (134.9-138.7) to the rest of the narrative. The second aspect is the relationship of Peter’s brief introductory letter to the story that follows. Both of these issues have to do with the redactional history of the work, and there has been a tendency to see the transitions between the various parts of the Letter (introduction, frame story, revelation) as being awkward, betraying unskilful editing. A third issue, related to the second, has to do with borrowings from Luke/Acts. Although the Letter is clearly indebted to this literary source, prior research has made it appear that the Letter’s author assimilates her sources in a scattershot or general way, rather than according to any strict logic. In what follows, I will address these issues and demonstrate that in fact the Letter is a coherent, well-planned and subtly organized document, whose parts work together harmoniously when properly understood, and whose narrative is anchored securely in a definite context within the overall Luke/Acts historical framework. a) Revelation Content In his grand revelation to the disciples, Jesus teaches them of the “deficiency of the aeons,” namely the disobedience and foolishness of the Mother, which pave the way for the coming of the Arrogant One, who imprisons a part of the Mother that she left behind and sets powers and authorities to rule over it. Christ is sent from the Pleroma to rescue this seed. He speaks with those who are his and enables them to receive their true inheritance and to fight against the powers. Broadly speaking, this revelation is a relatively clear and apparently pro forma presentation of

The Letter of Peter and its Message


gnostic myth, and on first sight appears only tenuously linked to the frame story that introduces it, and which also continues on after the revelation. Let us begin by noting that it is common in revelation dialogues for there to be some degree of disjunction between the content of the revelation imparted by the Saviour, and the frame story surrounding it. This sort of disjunction, of course, has long been noted, and is one of the sources for the modern view of these works as being produced by supplying originally independent discourses or treatises with apostolic frame stories. Now, based on the number of works of this genre that have survived, it seems safe to say that ancient readers cannot have felt this disjunction to be as serious an aesthetic problem as modern scholars often seem to do. So even if such a disjunction did exist in the Letter, it would not necessarily be an argument against the coherence of the work as a whole from the point of view of the author and her2 audience, but merely evidence that its author is working within the conventions of her chosen genre, rather than according to our modern expectations. But in fact, on closer examination we find that—especially by revelation dialogue standards—the revelation is well integrated into the text as a whole. We note first of all the use of clichéd Pauline terminology, gnosticized in context, including references to “powers (Ϭⲟⲙ),” “powers of the world (ⲛⲓϬⲟⲙ ⲧⲉ ⲡⲕⲟⲥⲙⲟⲥ),” and “authorities (ⲉⲝⲟⲩⲥⲓⲁ),” who are said to “fight against us,” much of it plausibly borrowed from Ephesians 6:12, a favourite of gnostic Paulinists—cf. for example the very similar “namechecking” of that verse in the introduction to the Hypostasis of the Archons: “On account of the hypostasis of the authorities . . . the great apostle, referring to the authorities of the darkness told us that ‘our contest is not against flesh and blood . . .’.” The use of this language establishes a Pauline literary context for the revelation’s contents, a context which—as we shall see in detail in section two of this paper—is abundantly supported by aspects of the frame story that the Letter provides for it. Speaking thematically, it is generally true that throughout the Letter revelation is linked to persecution. The revelation begins after the apostles pray about persecution (134.3-9); it ends with Jesus’ warning with regard to future persecution (137.21-138.3); Jesus speaks to them on the road in order to warn them of the need for suffering (138.21-139.4); and a


In this paper I will use the feminine when the gender of the person in question is unknown. This is done purely for the sake of avoiding awkward phrasing (“he/she”).


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spirit of understanding is granted to them only after Peter acknowledges the centrality of suffering to Jesus’ career (139.15-140.7). Thus it is quite appropriate that the ultimate purpose of the information that Christ imparts in this revelation is precisely to explain the mythological underpinnings of the persecution faced by the apostles, as well as the grounds for the hope of liberation from this persecution. The contrast between the this-worldly persecution that is the focus of the rest of the text and the technical and mythological nature of the revelation may be surprising at first, but from the point of view of the text there is no need to make either/or decisions or to see a contradiction: rather, the very point of the revelation is to show that persecution extends in a continuum from the material to the cosmic level, and to show its ultimate origins. This is brought out by Christ’s own instructions on fighting the powers. Not only must the apostles strip themselves of that which is corruptible (ⲉⲧⲉⲧⲛⲁⲕⲁⲕ ⲧⲏⲛⲉ ⲕⲁϩⲏⲩ ⲡⲁⲓ ⲉⲧⲧⲁⲕⲏⲟⲩⲧ), standard enough advice for a gnostic text, but when they have done so they will become illuminators in the midst of people who are dying (ϩⲉⲛⲫⲱⲥⲧⲏⲣ ϩ ⲧⲙⲏⲧⲉ  ϩⲉⲛⲣⲱⲙⲉ ⲉⲩⲙⲟⲟⲩⲧ) (137.6-9). The this-worldly, missionary note is struck again, and very strongly, at the end of the revelation, where Christ says that “You shall fight against them [the powers] in this way: Come together (ⲁⲙⲏⲉⲓⲧⲛ ⲉⲩⲙⲁ) and teach in the world (ϯ ⲥⲃⲱ ϩ ⲡⲕⲟⲥⲙⲟⲥ)” (137.22-24). The command to “come together” refers the reader back to Peter’s mention of the need to come together at the start of the Letter (132.19-20), and forward to the later renewed gathering (ⲥⲱⲟⲩϩ) of the apostles and their fellows (140.13-14), thus anchoring the revelation in the narrative context of the Letter as a whole. In terms of the revelation’s context within the Letter, we see that the text opens with Peter’s statement of the need on the apostles’ part to learn how to orient (ⲧⲱϣ) themselves so that they can “preach in the salvation that was promised to us by our lord Jesus,” and so that they can “tell the good news” (132.19-133.1). The revelation that they receive, then, is what orients them, explaining the esoteric, underlying meaning behind their situation in the world. It is important to note that Peter’s letter does not state that the revelation is to form the content of their teaching. Preaching missions are quite different from apostolic gatherings, working by different rules and requiring different responses—just as the information, for instance, that we might receive in a teacher training seminar is of a different order and different nature than the information that we impart when we are actually teaching

The Letter of Peter and its Message


a class. Having received the information appropriate to this private, one might say pedagogical, setting of an apostolic gathering, the apostles are now prepared to go out and preach the historical, this-worldly aspect of the good news. And in fact this is what we see them doing as the Letter ends: “Then the apostles parted from each other with four messages (ⲡⲓϥⲧⲟⲟⲩ  ϣⲁϫⲉ—see page 286 below), so that they might teach.” While the apostles need to be gathered together to be oriented, they are perfectly capable of teaching others on their own once this has been accomplished. To summarize, we can say that the revelation that the risen Christ delivers is perfectly coherent with the concerns, themes, and overall spirit of the rest of the Letter. Its use of mythological language may appear surprising, but this language serves to describe the underlying origins of the issues that confront the apostles in the main stream of the rest of the narrative. While the revelation may derive from a different source than the letter, it is not awkward in its present context—in fact, its discussion of the importance of apostolic unity ties to both the introduction and the end of the Letter. In short, it fits in. b) The Introduction: Epistle and Philip The other major feature of the Letter that has led some to doubt its overall narrative coherence has to do with the introduction, in its use of an epistle from Peter to introduce the story and in its references to Philip. Peter’s letter is addressed to Philip, and to judge by the introduction to the text it would seem that Philip is being set up to become a major character in the story that follows, yet as soon as he joins with the other apostles he disappears from view, subsumed into the general group of “the apostles” under Peter’s leadership. The “Historical” Context of the Frame Story: Acts 8 Let us examine the introduction a little more closely. In the fictitious letter that opens the account, Peter writes to Philip, reminding him that the Saviour had commanded the apostles to come together in order to orient themselves and learn how to preach the good news. At first, Peter writes, Philip was hesitant to join them, and so now Peter is asking again. This time, we are told, Philip accedes to the request and joins his fellow apostles. Peter’s introductory letter helps to establish the following allegedly historical context in which the activities of the Letter take place: Jesus has


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gone, leaving behind him a dedicated apostolic circle, in which Peter plays a major role. They are keeping the faith alive, but persecution is becoming an issue, as we will see later, when they pray for help against an unnamed “they” who seek to kill them (134.8-9). Philip, for some unexplained reason, is absent as the Letter opens, but there is communication—carried on by letter—between the apostles, and a willingness on the disciples’ part to go where they are needed, as we see by Peter’s summons and Philip’s eager response—he comes “rejoicing” (133.9-11). After his arrival, the apostles take part in a group prayer that ultimately results in a gift of the spirit being granted to them. This narrative background fits perfectly with the situation presented in Acts 7-8.3 Acts 7 describes the beginning of the persecution of Christians through the martyrdom of Stephen. The death of Stephen inaugurates a “severe persecution” (8:1) against the disciples, which could certainly provide the template for the Christian “suffering” described by the author of the Letter. Acts 8 deals with Philip’s wanderings away from Jerusalem; he is one of the apostles who had been “scattered” (8:4). But despite his wandering, Acts informs us that he keeps in contact, presumably by letter, with the Jerusalem circle, in which Peter is a significant figure. At one point (8:14), Peter and John are sent to aid Philip in Samaria, and their trip results in the invocation of the Holy Spirit onto the Samarians. The beginning of persecution, the circle of apostles with Peter as a major figure, the absence of Philip, the abundant communication between the apostles, the act of summoning disciples to wherever they may be needed, and the connection of the Spirit with the gatherings and prayers of these mobile disciples: all of these features link the frame story of the Letter to Acts—and not just to Acts in a general sense, but more specifically to the situation portrayed in Acts 7-8. It must be admitted that this view is contrary to the general tendency in prior research to see either a general influence of Acts on the Letter, or—if specific contextualization is advanced—the influence of the first few chapters of Acts. With regard to the first option, Meyer may have best expressed the implicit scholarly consensus (Meyer 1981, p. 191): “Thus we do best to 3) Our discussion here is focused on the situation as presented in Acts, rather than on reconstructions of historical reality, and thus we set to one side questions as to Peter’s real status in the early apostolic circle, especially vis-à-vis James. Also, regardless of his relative status, it is clear in Acts that he is the more dynamic and active of the two figures.

The Letter of Peter and its Message


conclude that the author of the Ep. Pet. Phil. is not consciously using a specific Lucan text at all, but is familiar with themes and motifs in the Lucan tradition.” Many—including Meyer himself—have seen that the influence of Acts 8 can explain aspects of the Letter’s setting, but it has been regarded as no more than one of a number of equally significant evocations of Acts to be found in the Letter. But as we have seen, the author of the Letter has taken considerable care to quickly and subtly establish specific details of the context in which her story is set. Her work does not float indistinctly in (Lukan) history; rather, it is anchored to a specific time, a specific context. This is certainly not to say that other passages from Acts are not evoked in the work, and scholars have been correct to see that the atmosphere of the Pentecost period is often strong, just as references to non-Acts sources, particularly Pauline and Johannine literature, are to be found. But these references are secondary evocations set within a specific historical context, and that specific context fits in with Acts 7-8, making it the primary and determining source. Terence Smith provides the most sustained and convincing argument in favour of the author drawing her inspiration from Luke 24-Acts 2 instead (Smith 1985, p. 122-125), but in his discussion he focuses mainly on Peter’s long speech (139.9-140.7), rather than the Letter as a whole. Even with regard solely to this issue, Smith himself points out numerous aspects of the Letter that clash with Acts 2. He notes that in his speech of Acts 2 Peter publicly addresses the non-Christian Jews (“the men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem”), whereas in the Letter he addresses his fellow apostles (139.9-10). Also, in Acts 2, the holy spirit is bestowed before the speech; here, the fullness of the Spirit is granted afterwards. Furthermore, in the Letter Peter is filled with the spirit even before giving his speech, and then the others receive the spirit afterwards, whereas the early verses of Acts 2 emphasize that the apostles all received the spirit together. I would also add that in Acts, unlike in the Letter, all of the apostles are said to speak (2:3-4), with Peter only becoming the spokesperson to rebut the mockery of the crowd (2:13 and following). All of this is not to deny that there are similarities to, or reminiscences of, the very early chapters of Acts, especially Acts 2, in the Letter. But even where these similarities are strongest, namely in Peter’s speech, notable differences between the speech and Acts 2 remain, and we are still obliged to bring in a reference to Acts 8 to account for the absence of Philip at the beginning of the Letter.


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Is this evidence that we are seeing a scattershot use of various Lukan passages without consistency or internal coherence? Not necessarily. We can account for both the resemblances, and the differences, if we look at Acts 2 as an influence on Peter’s speech, and not as a dominant influence over the construction of the Letter as a whole. In other words, these resemblances can be explained by arguing that our author is not relying solely on her own imagination for the speech that she creates for Peter in the Letter. Rather, she is using the Acts speech as a model for creating her new speech. Hence the resemblance. But this use of this account as a guide for how to construct a proper Petrine speech does not alter the fact that the frame story within which Peter’s speech is set owes more to Acts 7-8 than to Acts 1, with the absence of Philip being the determining factor. We can see this as the general context for the Letter as a whole, whereas Acts 2 evidently provided a specific guide to Peter’s speech. Furthermore, there is the issue of the background of the brief letter from Peter to Philip that opens the Letter. It has been seen, source critically, as “an independent unit from the material that follows” (as noted in Matthews 2002, p. 147, although the view is shared by others). In other words, he would see something of a discontinuity between the letter and the rest of the text, which would make the Letter as a whole appear awkward and inelegantly constructed. Must we view it in this way? I do not believe so. The introductory letter can also be seen as an evocation of the Actsian atmosphere, establishing that the separated missionaries keep in touch with the Jerusalem circle through the medium of letters and that these letters are used to pass along instructions and requests (no letter is explicitly mentioned in Acts 8, but see for example Acts 15:22-29). In that case, the awkwardness vanishes, along with the necessity of assuming an obvious and inelegant graft. Instead, the introductory letter becomes a charming and sophisticated way of setting the scene for the tale that follows. This view is supported by the way in which the contents of the letter harmonize with the revelation that the apostles receive, as discussed above (p. 267). There is thus nothing to rule out, and much to argue in favour of, the hypothesis that the author of the Letter intended her frame story to be understood as taking place around the time depicted in this section of Acts. The Letter quite definitely anchors us in a particular moment of church history, even as it tells us a story that is not recorded in Acts, but that takes place in the same fictional universe and chronology.

The Letter of Peter and its Message


This is not a case of the stereotypical gnostic “rewritten bible,” where stories from the canonical scriptures are told with different interpretations or emphases. Rather, we have to do here with what we might call an “expanded bible,” such as seems to have motivated (for example) the authors of the apocryphal Acts of the apostles, or the authors of both of the Apocalypses of Paul. In effect, the Letter can be seen as a fictional expansion of the Acts account, adding new episodes to it and filling in the story. And Peter’s introductory letter, both by its content and by the mere fact of it being a letter, the medium used to link far-flung disciples, is an ingenious and effective way of establishing and reinforcing this narrative context. (A similar method is used in the Apocryphon of James, which is also set in the post-resurrectional apostolic period.) Our understanding of the precise context in which the Letter is set enables us to rebut the assumption that one might derive from reading other discussions of the Letter, namely that the author of the Letter makes general, unsystematic use of Luke/Acts. In fact, as we have seen, she anchors her text securely in a very definite context. While the Letter does contain evocations of other sections of Luke/Acts, particularly Peter’s Pentecost speech (as noted by Smith and others), these evocations are used to supplement the overall Actsian atmosphere of the work, and not weaken its specific contextual setting. The Disappearance of Philip However, one puzzling feature remains, namely the way that Philip as an individual disappears from the story immediately after he rejoins the other apostles. The Letter begins with a letter, written by Peter and addressed to Philip, urging Philip to rejoin the rest of the apostles. Philip does so—in fact, he comes “rejoicing.” Once he arrives, Peter gathers all the apostles, and we never hear about Philip as an individual again. We have seen the utility, even the attractiveness, of using a letter from Peter to introduce the story and establish its narrative context. But why is this letter addressed to Philip, and why does Philip then disappear from the story? First of all, we must identify whom we are talking about here. On the one hand, this figure is apparently modelled on the Philip of Acts 8, one of the seven deacons chosen in Acts 6:2-5. On the other hand, in the Letter Peter describes him as “our fellow apostle (ⲡⲉⲛϣⲃⲏⲣⲁⲡⲟⲥⲧⲟⲗⲟⲥ, 132.14),” which would seem to link him to Philip the apostle, mentioned at Acts 1:13. In antiquity the two figures were often confused or combined, however,


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and it is quite possible that this is what we see happening here, as argued by Meyer (1981, p. 94) and Bethge (1997, p. 60). We should note as an alternative explanation that it is also possible that the author of the Letter has a wider definition of “apostle” than does the author of Acts, and sees no problem with applying the title to the Philip of Acts 6 and 8—who is, after all, an important figure in the history of the earliest church, and whose activity fulfils the literal meaning of the title “apostle.” Whichever of these explanations may be the case, the unexplained absence of Philip at the start of the Letter argues strongly that he is to be identified with the Philip of Acts 6 and 8, whether or not he is linked to the Philip of Acts 1 as well. In one of the early studies of the Letter, Bethge proposed that the Letter as we have it might be only the beginning of a longer Acts of Philip (Bethge 1978, and in his subsequent work on the Letter). He suggested that in this longer work, the section that is now the end of the Letter—which features the disciples going their separate ways to spread the gospel—might have been followed by a specific focus on Philip: “As for Philip, he went . . .” (Bethge 1978 p. 162; he maintains this theory in Bethge 1997). He felt this would explain why Philip is a prominent figure at the start, the addressee of Peter’s letter, and then disappears for the rest of the Letter. However, this hypothesis accentuates rather than resolves the question of Philip’s disappearance from the text. Especially in an Acts of Philip, we would not expect Philip first to be mentioned as only the subject of Peter’s letter, and then to perform precisely one action (rejoining the apostles), after which he fades into the undifferentiated group of apostles, only to emerge from this group later on, if then. In the Letter as we have it, this appears to be at least partly justified by the text’s focus on Peter; in an Acts of Philip, we would expect Philip to be in the forefront throughout. We should note as well that Bethge explains the abridgement of these Acts of Philip into the Letter by describing the Letter as an attempt to simply produce “filler [Buchfüller]” (Bethge 1978, p. 162), an excerpt intended to fill up the last few pages in Nag Hammadi Codex VIII after the extremely long work Zostrianos. Whether or not this assumption satisfactorily explains the situation with regard to Nag Hammadi Codex VIII is questionable in itself, but it certainly does not explain why a version of the Letter that is very similar to the Nag Hammadi version should be found in Codex Tchacos as well, where the “filler” argument does not apply. This new evidence makes it clear that the Letter as we have it circulated independently and was considered to be worth copying and preserving by at least two people or groups of people. It should be noted that not only are there two

The Letter of Peter and its Message


versions of the Letter, but these two versions also have almost exactly the same title: ⲧⲉⲡⲓⲥⲧⲟⲗⲏ  ⲡⲉⲧⲣⲟⲥ ⲉⲧⲁϥϫⲟⲟⲩⲥ  ⲫⲓⲗⲓⲡⲡⲟⲥ (NHC VIII: “The letter of Peter that he sent to Philip”); ⲧⲉⲡⲓⲥⲧⲟⲗⲏ  ⲡⲉⲧⲣⲟⲥ ϣⲁ ⲫⲓⲗⲓⲡⲡⲟⲥ (Tchacos: “The letter of Peter to Philip”). The similarity, and also the fact that the title is found at the end of the Tchacos version, argues that the title is meant to apply to the treatise as a whole, rather than just to the letter that opens it—which also supports the thesis of this text’s independence from any hypothetical Acts of Philip. Thus, Bethge’s explanation leaves out the fact that it is the Letter as we have it that was read and copied by the users of Nag Hammadi codex VIII and Codex Tchacos, and not these hypothetical Acts of Philip. As an operating hypothesis, we should certainly assume that the Letter as they read and copied it was coherent and complete to them—else why copy it? And as I will show, it is perfectly possible to account for Philip’s disappearance without invoking the hypothesis of an unattested continuation of the story that would bring him back into focus. (For a different but also critical approach to Bethge’s theory, see Meyer 1981, p. 97-8; Matthews 2002, pp. 144-149.) The Importance of Unity: The Lost Sheep The clue to resolving this issue comes when we note that Philip is mentioned individually only while he is absent from the other apostles. In fact, his absence is the major theme of Peter’s letter. As we learn from the letter, the lack of a unified apostolic circle in fact prevents them from moving on to the next stage in their instruction. Peter tells Philip that the Saviour specifically ordered that they should come together in one place in order for this to happen. Philip’s absence prevents it from taking place: thus the need for Peter’s letter. Now, it is quite common in revelation dialogues for Christ to take one or a few apostles aside and provide them with privileged information, as happens in the Book of Thomas, the Apocryphon of James, the Gospel of Thomas, and elsewhere. We tend to interpret these portrayals as indicating that the secret teachings contained in the revelations are meant only for a select group within the church. But here in the Letter, as Peter’s epistle informs us, we have exactly the opposite situation, in that the revelation is being withheld until the apostles are all gathered together as a group. It seems that the author of the Letter wants to make it clear to her readers that there is to be no question of divisive, secret knowledge belonging to a restricted group of Christians, or to only one strand of the apostolic tradition. In her telling, the


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knowledge is imparted not to Thomas alone, or to James and Peter, but to all the apostles at once—in fact, as is shown by Peter’s introductory letter, the knowledge cannot be imparted unless all the apostles are together. The apostolic circle cannot move forward to the next phase while it is incomplete. Taking what we have discussed up to now into account, we can see that Philip fills two roles in the overall structure of the Letter. As an individual, he is important because his initial absence links the Letter’s setting to Acts 8. But he is also important in a negative manner, as a symbol of the initial lack of apostolic unity, a lack that—we are told—is contrary to Christ’s instructions. From this latter point of view, Philip is individually significant only so long as he is absent, only so long as he is the one who is missing—just as there is nothing individually significant about the lost sheep in the parable, except the fact that it is lost. Once Philip arrives, and the apostolic circle is complete, his uniqueness— which was based on his absence—vanishes and he merges with his fellow apostles. As the Letter puts it, upon receipt of Peter’s letter, Philip “went to Peter, rejoicing with gladness. Then Peter gathered the others also. They went upon the mountain . . .” (133.10-14). Philip arrives as an individual, separate from his fellow apostles; the “others” are gathered by Peter; and then Philip and the apostles, unified, merge into a final “they,” with no distinctions made. We could even read Peter’s reference to Philip’s unwillingness to join the other apostles, followed by the description of Philip’s rejoicing after he changes his mind and comes to them, as the author’s comment on lack of unity within the church, and the happiness that reconciliation brings. After all, this “rejoicing” is in fact Philip’s only individual action in the Letter, which makes it especially significant. Bethge argues instead that the joy is caused by his anticipation of the Christophany (Bethge 1997, p. 63). This is also possible, but unlikely. The phrasing of the passage clearly associates his rejoicing with his activity of coming to join the other apostles: ⲁϥⲃⲱⲕ ⲉⲣⲁⲧϥ̅  ⲡⲉⲧⲣⲟⲥ ϩ ⲟⲩⲣⲁϣⲉ. The rejoicing is an adverbial modifier of the main verb, “to go,” ⲃⲱⲕ. In the absence of any authorial contraindications, it behoves us to adopt the straightforward reading of the passage, especially given that this reading is quite plausible on narrative grounds as well. It makes perfect sense that Philip would be happy to rejoin his fellows and re-establish apostolic unity—and let us keep in mind that at this point in the narrative Philip does not know about the Christophany that is to come. In the balance, then, it is more likely that Philip’s rejoicing has to do simply with his joy at rejoining his fellow apostles. And by depicting Phil-

The Letter of Peter and its Message


ip’s happiness, the author of the Letter gives a powerful appeal to others who may have caused division within Christianity to “bury the hatchet” and come together again. It is possible as well that our author is making intertextual reference to the three parables in Luke 15—the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. All three of these parables deal with a group that loses one of its components, and then regains it. The hundredth sheep is brought back to the herd; the tenth coin is found; the prodigal son returns. All three of these parables also emphasize the rejoicing that accompanies the restoration of unity (15:6, 9, 32), and in all three cases the Greek χαίρω is rendered by Coptic ⲣⲁϣⲉ,4 the verb used in the Letter as well, albeit in its nominal form to suit the extremely common ϩ ⲟⲩⲻ construction. And in all of these cases, the rejoicing has to do simply with the return of the lost element, rather than any anticipated future event. (Note as well that in these cases, the lost element is significant for the fact that it is lost, not for any reason intrinsic to it. This too fits with the situation in the Letter, and the disappearance of Philip from the narrative after his return.) Now, Judith Hartenstein has argued that the reference to Philip’s absence could suggest that the author is thinking of a separated group of Christians identified with Philip in her own historical context (Hartenstein 2000, p. 168-9; this hypothesis is also supported in Matthews 2002, pp. 150-1). But while this is a possible reading, it is not necessary to adopt her hypothesis, as the Acts 7-8 influence on its own provides a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Philip should be the missing apostle. This clear intertextuality relieves us of the obligation to make risky sociological arguments on the basis of literary devices in the narrative. We need not think of Philip as representing contemporary “Philipites” or “Philippians”; we can see him instead as the missing piece, the one who is needed to restore apostolic unity. This is a powerful, and irenic, message, which goes along with such unified gestures as referring to Christ as the saviour of the cosmos (132.1819), rather than denigrating the world; the linking through prayer of gnostic spiritual enlightenment with somatic healing (140.2-11); and Christ’s stress that the cosmic powers are to be fought through worldly activity (137.2025). Given these aspects of the work, Luttikhuizen’s hypothesis with regard to its origin appears quite possible: “In our text a Christian who has been converted to the gnostic doctrine of salvation is speaking. When he chooses his own words, he still uses the vocabulary of catholic Christianity . . . He was convinced that in the gnostic teachings the deeper and fuller message 4)

All Coptic citations of New Testament material from Horner 1910.


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of Jesus was revealed. He saw no substantial conflict between the catholic and the gnostic doctrine and therefore did not need to abandon his former views” (Luttikhuizen 1979, p. 102). The Separation at the End It is true that at the end of the Letter the apostles split up again, but it is also noteworthy that this time no separate names are given. The text reads, “Then the apostles separated themselves into the four messages so that they might preach” (140.23-26). Their act is a collective one. As a group they divide themselves, having been “oriented (ⲧⲱϣ)” collectively through the revelation that they all received. Though they go their separate ways, there is no lack of unity here. Rather, this is the completion of the purpose of their coming together, as announced at the start of the Letter (132.16133.8). Having received a common revelation, having become harmonized, they can now function independently. c) Conclusion: The Letter is both Coherent, and Well-Crafted Thus we can conclude that the Letter is coherent even when considered on its own and not as an excerpt from a longer document. Its setting in the Actsian historical universe is clear; its revelation is well-integrated into the rest of the text; and it makes efficient and symbolic use of Philip. In fact, rather than being scattered or vague, it is well and subtly crafted, presenting a message of unity and reconciliation.

2. What about Paul? Despite all of this focus on unity, however, there is one apostle who is conspicuously absent from the Letter, namely Paul. What are we to make of this? Are there any clues here as to the author’s attitude towards Paul? This is particularly significant given that the Letter has in the past been considered to be a Petrine writing, based on Peter’s role as the clear leader of the apostles. Paul’s Presence Would Be Anachronistic . . . The first, easy answer to this question is that Paul is absent simply because of the Letter’s historical setting. At this point in the Acts narrative, the apostles had not met Paul, who indeed was just having his Damascus road

The Letter of Peter and its Message


experience. In leaving Paul out of the Letter, our author is simply avoiding anachronism. But His Teachings Are the Same . . . However, although Paul himself never appears in the Letter, his influence certainly does. As we saw above, Pauline language, reminiscent of Eph. 6:12, is used to describe the oppressive cosmic powers, in very much the same manner as in the introduction to the Hypostasis of the Archons and in other gnostic texts. This suggests that for the author of the Letter, the apostolic revelation can be harmonized with the esoteric teachings revealed through a gnostically enlightened reading of Paul’s letters. For this author, Paul’s letters, when properly understood, speak of the same things as are revealed to the disciples, thus uniting the apostle to the Gentiles and the Jerusalem circle—or, more precisely, aligning the Jerusalem circle with gnostic Paulinism. And His Revelation Is the Same Let us furthermore remember that Paul’s “gospel,” and his apostolic status, were based not on acquaintance with Jesus during his earthly career, but rather linked to Paul’s own revelation of the risen Christ, recounted in Gal. 1:13-17. Now, this revelation is also described in Acts 9,5 and thus takes place immediately after the events that—as we have seen—lead up to the Letter’s frame story. In other words, the apostles in the Letter are having their revelation—which is unrecorded in Acts—at approximately the same period in the Acts historical framework as Paul is having his revelation. For anyone familiar with this framework, it is difficult to avoid thinking of Paul’s Damascus road experience in context with Philip’s absence or the period of persecution following Stephen’s martyrdom. Given this, it is not surprising to find that Actsian Pauline influence in the Letter extends far beyond the use of Pauline language mentioned above. Indeed, the whole setting and structure of the apostolic revelation betrays 5) The revelation is also described elsewhere in Acts, of course, but for the purposes of this paper I will focus on the Acts 9 account, as it is physically proximate to the section of the Acts that inspired the setting of the Letter and thus the obvious choice for the Letter’s author to draw on. Furthermore, it is also the only one of the three accounts that is told from the narrator’s perspective, and this, in addition to its early occurrence in Acts, gives it the appearance of being the most objective and reliable account of “what really happened.”


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the profound influence of the Acts 9 account of Paul’s revelation on the road. I am far from the first to note this aspect of the Letter—it has been mentioned by almost everyone who works with the Letter—but to date it has not been discussed in detail. The Revelation and Acts 9 The persecutions and the other events recounted in Acts 7-8 lead up to and underlie the revelation received by Paul in Acts 9. Paul’s role in the persecutions is made clear at Acts 8:1, 8:4, 9:1-2, and 9:5, thus linking persecution and revelation, a link made stronger by the fact that Paul’s revelation has the effect of turning him from persecutor to persecuted, as is affirmed at 9:16. In the Letter, too, the environment of increasing persecution sets the stage for and underlies the revelation received by the disciples, as is shown by the disciples’ prayer immediately before the revelation: “Give us power, for they seek to kill us!” Clearly, then, there is a thematic link between Paul’s revelation in Acts and the disciples’ revelation in the Letter, in that both are tied to an atmosphere of persecution. But the similarities between the two revelations go much farther than this. They are so pronounced that it seems likely that in her account of the revelation, the author of the Letter has used Paul’s revelation as a template for the construction of the disciples’ revelation, just as she has used the Acts 7-8 situation as the basis for her frame story. Turning to the revelation itself, we note the following similarities: The Setting The setting of the revelation does not correspond to Paul’s vision on the road, of course, but it does cohere with the disciples’ residence in Jerusalem at the time of Paul’s revelation, as specified in Acts 8:14, and of course it also coheres with the vision granted to the apostles earlier in the Acts historical universe, which took place on the Mount of Olives. It thus fits into the overall Actsian context. Light but no Vision In both the Letter and Acts 9, there is an emphasis on light, but not on vision—in fact, the light is accompanied by a loss of vision. In the Acts account, we are told that both Paul and those who are with him hear a voice, but do not see any person, while there is a great light that

The Letter of Peter and its Message


shines. Furthermore, Paul himself is blinded after the vision, only regaining his sight after the Lord’s prediction of his election and his suffering (9:15-16). In the Letter, too, we have the presence of a great light, with no-one to be seen. Jesus is not seen until much later in the text (as was the case with Acts), and his opening words in the Letter’s revelation have to do precisely with listening: “Hear my words (ϫⲓ ⲥⲙⲏ ⲉⲛⲁϣⲁϫⲉ).” Thus in both cases we see a joined emphasis on light, sound, and the invisibility of the speaker and/or a lack of sight. The Saviour’s Question The Saviour’s question in the Letter, “Why are you asking me?” corresponds formally to the question that he asks Paul in Acts 9:4, namely, “Why do you persecute me?”; the difference in content is accounted for by the different backgrounds and settings of Paul and the disciples, but in both cases we have a demand for a justification of the activities of the recipients of the revelation. In both cases, too, the question is rhetorical, more a grand gesture than a real request for information; no answer is expected or given in either account. I AM Statement Then the I AM statement following this question (“I am Jesus the Christ, the one who is with you to eternity [ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ⲡⲉ ⲓⲥ̅ ⲡⲉⲭ̄ⲥ̅ ⲉⲧϣ[ⲟ]ⲟⲡ ⲙ̄ⲛ̅̄ ⲧⲏⲩⲧ̄ⲛ̅ ϣⲁ ⲉⲛⲉϩ]”) also conforms to the Acts account formally and contextually (“I am Jesus, the one who you persecute [ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ⲡⲉ ⲓⲥ̅ ⲡⲉⲧⲕⲡⲏⲧ ⲛⲥϥ]”), albeit again it differs in terms of its specific content so as to fit the different contexts of the different addressees. But in both cases, it consists of the I AM declaration, followed by one or two titles, followed by Jesus’ statement of his relationship to the recipient(s). Pauline Content The specific gnostic content of the revelation does not correspond to the Acts account of Paul’s revelation. But its Pauline resonances, which have been discussed above, must be taken into consideration along with the more frequently discussed Johannine content of the revelation (Koschorke 1979). It seems that the presentation of the disciples’ revelation is at least partly inspired by a gnostic reading of Paul.


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The After-Effects: Vision, Suffering, and the Spirit The after-effects of the revelations in the Letter and Acts are also linked through the mingled themes of vision, suffering, and the infusion of the spirit. In Acts, Paul’s lack of vision is rectified only after the Lord’s prediction that he (the Lord) will reveal to Paul what sufferings he (Paul) must endure, and it is to predict this that the Lord appears to Ananias in a dream. Then Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit, and regains his sight. In the Letter, Peter refers to the need for suffering (138.16-20; 139.2123), followed by a prayer for a spirit to be granted to the apostles. Then it is stated that the apostles saw (ⲧⲟⲧⲉ ⲁⲡⲉⲧ[ⲣⲟⲥ] ⲙ̄ⲛ̅̄ ⲛⲓⲕⲉⲁⲡⲟⲥⲧⲟⲗⲟⲥ ⲁⲩⲛⲁⲩ ⲉ[ⲃⲟⲗ]) and they are filled with a spirit of understanding. I agree here with Terence Smith, who notes that “the giving of the spirit to the apostles is regarded as dependent in some way upon the content of the speech uttered by Peter, a conclusion reinforced by the further observation that the speech ends with the specific request that they be given ‘a spirit of understanding’” (Smith 1985, p. 134). The parallel with Paul helps us to see that the giving of the spirit is linked to, and dependent on, the affirmation of the need for persecution. The statement that the apostles “saw” is an interesting one for our purposes. Now, due to the lacunous state of the Nag Hammadi manuscript, there is some ambiguity here (the corresponding section in the Codex Tchacos version has been lost). The verb ⲛⲁⲩ (to see) is preserved, followed by what is probably an epsilon. There would have been space for roughly three more letters in the line, but these letters are lost. The two suggestions that have been advanced for reconstructions are ⲁⲩⲛⲁⲩ ⲉⲣⲟϥ (they saw him/it) or ⲁⲩⲛⲁⲩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ (they saw, with the connotation of regaining sight or of sight as opposed to blindness—Crum 234a). If the former solution is adopted, as in Meyer’s work on the Letter, the question arises: who or what did they see? Given the immediate context, the two masculine singular possibilities are Jesus, to whom Peter has been referring, or the spirit for which he is praying. Neither of these fit in the context. It is clearly stated several lines later (140.14-15) that Jesus appears to them, hence it is unlikely that they see him here. And as for the spirit, it is stated in the next line that “they were filled with a holy spirit.” On the one hand this fulfils Peter’s request; and on the other, if the spirit was referred to with a pronoun before (ⲛⲁⲩ ⲉⲣⲟϥ), it is difficult to see how it would then subsequently become indefinite (“a holy spirit,” ⲟⲩⲡ̄ⲛ̅ⲁ̅ ⲉϥⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ). Thus a reading of ⲁⲩⲛⲁⲩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ (they saw, or they regained their

The Letter of Peter and its Message


sight) is to be preferred (see on this as well Bethge 1997 pp. 144; contra Meyer 1981 pp. 158-159). According to this reconstruction, the apostles are not said to have seen anything, but simply to have seen, as if they had been blind previously, although no such blindness is mentioned in the text. Considered solely from the point of view of the Letter, it seems as though that the author has some sort of spiritual seeing in mind—one is tempted, for example, to read this as a comment that previously they were blind to higher realities, but now they can perceive, that is, “see,” them. But things become much more precise when we read this phrase intertextually, as containing an allusion to Paul’s revelation in Acts 9, in which the Coptic verb used is also ⲛⲁⲩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ. As is the case there, so too here a reference to regained sight is linked, thematically and temporally, to predictions of suffering, revelation and the reception of the spirit. Louis Painchaud has established three criteria for identifying allusions, namely that 1) the possible allusion must in some way be perceived as standing out from, or foreign to, its context, 2) the allusion, if present, must cast new light on its context, 3) and the possibility of a given passage being allusive is increased by the presence of other references in the work to the source from which the allusion is drawn.6 All three of these criteria are satisfied here, making it very likely that this passage is alluding to Paul’s revelation in Acts 9. As we have seen, the reference to seeing stands out from its context; treating it as evidence for an allusion to Paul’s revelation certainly does cast new light on the whole scenario; and of course the Letter’s use of Acts generally is clear. Harmonization with Paul To sum up, we have here a description of the apostles undergoing a revelation whose form is modelled on Paul’s own revelation as described in Acts 9, and whose content, while fundamentally gnostic and Johannine, is justified and supported by Pauline references. The author of the Letter, then, is engaged in creating a parallelism between the Jerusalem circle and Paul. They are linked not just by the fact that they all have revelations, but by the facts that their revelations take place at roughly the same time (after the events described in Acts 8), and in similar contexts and with similar themes and contents. The author of the Letter is on the one hand applying 6)

Painchaud 1996.


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the Acts-inspired Pauline standards for revelation to the apostles, that is, giving the apostles the sort of revelatory context that Acts gives to Paul; and on the other hand, she is giving their revelation a gnostic, Pauline appearance. In other words, the apostles are being conformed to Pauline standards. Paul and Peter Now, this period in the Acts account has very important ramifications for subsequent Christian history. The theme of persecution comes to the fore here, and it is linked intimately with the theme of the expansion of the mission (as presented via the description of Philip’s activities in Acts 8) and with the development of the mission through revelation. The figure of Paul is crucial for all three of these themes, in that he is a) a persecutor who will be the subject of much persecution, b) he is the figurehead for the expansion of the mission to the Gentiles, and c) his Christian career is based on revelation. From the point of view of Acts, Paul will also take over from Peter as the central figure in second half of the work. The ways in which his and Peter’s figures are constructed and interrelate are of pivotal importance for this view of Christian history—a view which, as we have seen, has profoundly influenced the author of the Letter. It is well known that one of the irenic concerns of the book of Acts is to smooth away the acrimonious divisions and disputes that occurred between Paul and the “Jerusalem circle,” the Christian establishment under Peter’s leadership. That concern is especially significant here in the Acts historical account, as it is at this point that begins the passing of the torch of Christian leadership (at least as far as the Acts account is concerned) from Peter to Paul. In order to make this transition as smooth as possible, the author of Acts harmonizes Paul with Peter, at least on the surface. So, for example, whatever the historical Peter may have thought about food laws and Paul’s abrogation of them, in Acts it is Peter who has the vision that legitimates this (10:9-16). Peter’s vision paves the way for, and renders inoffensive, Paul’s refusal to impose food restrictions on his gentile converts—and, indeed, the very idea that gentiles can be baptized and receive the Spirit without discrimination (10:41-11:1). Thus from the point of view of Acts, Peter and Paul are linked by having Paul carry on in Peter’s footsteps. Their differences are annulled through the assimilation of Paul to precedents already established by Peter and the Jerusalem circle.

The Letter of Peter and its Message


The Letter and Christian Unity In the Letter, we see the same concern at work, namely the desire to create a rapprochement between Paul and the apostolic circle, but this need is satisfied in the opposite manner. Rather than Paul being assimilated to Peter, here Peter is assimilated to Paul, in that the pivotal revelation that he and the other apostles share is in fact modelled formally on Paul’s, and its content references Pauline writings. The author of the Letter, like the author of Acts, is concerned to present a unified, harmonious vision of the early church, but she does this by expanding the Acts account so as to include a scene that identifies the apostles with a gnostically-interpreted Paul. To judge by her literary activity, her vision of the church is one where enlightened people (such as herself, presumably) would be integrated into the Christian community as a whole. Persecution is sure to come, and the “powers” and “archons” may do battle against Christians, but here there is no inner-Christian polemic, no railing against bishops and deacons who “do business” in Christ’s name and are “dry canals,” such as we find in the Apocalypse of Peter or the Testimony of Truth.7 Furthermore, although the revelation that the Letter describes takes place after Christ’s death, the author of the Letter points out unambiguously that the contents of the revelation were taught to the apostles during his life on earth (135.4-6; 138.1-3; 139.9-13). They are no post-resurrectional novelty, but rather they are fundamental elements of Christ’s teaching all along. As Hartenstein has argued, it could be the case that the absence of Philip at the start of the text points to an authorial context in which there is some division among Christian groups—although, as we saw, his absence can also be explained by the context of the frame story and the author’s desire to emphasize the joys of unity. Even if the former understanding is adopted, it is significant that the author’s approach to this situation is to use the carrot rather than the stick: she emphasizes Philip’s joy and the spiritual blessings that accompany his return, rather than being critical or threatening. It is also extremely important to note that the authorial position is identified with, and sympathetic to, that of the majority of the apostles, under Peter’s leadership, and not 7) Bethge notes that “Es finden sich keine Anzeichen, die in bezug auf das Leiden und die Verfolgung auf eine innerchristliche Konfrontation hinweisen” (Bethge 2001, p. 669).


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with Philip. Ultimately, the Letter can be read as a story about the wonderful benefits to the church that come from Christian unity. Sitz im Leben The fact that this eulogy of church unity is combined with a definitely gnostic understanding of Christianity argues in favour of an early dating of the Letter, to a period when a gnostic could reasonably hope for a peaceful, “two circles” coexistence of gnostic and non-gnostic Christians within the same broad institution. The Letter’s stress on the necessary presence of external persecution and the link between persecution and revelation may suggest that it was written in a situation where the church was under attack by external forces: the author is calling for Christians to band together, both to increase the flow of revelatory knowledge and to resist outside oppression. On the other hand, it may argue that the author sees persecution as a general rule, rather than a specific situation. I am inclined to read the reference at the end of the Letter to the spread of Christianity (“then the apostles parted from each other in the four words in order to preach,” 140.23-24) as evidence that the author is thinking in terms of a global (from her perspective) church. Now, there has been a good deal of debate over this apparent reference to “the four words (ⲡⲓϥⲧⲟⲟⲩ  ϣⲁϫⲉ).” The codex Tchacos version of the Letter differs from the Nag Hammadi version, but unfortunately casts no light on the problem, as there is a lacuna at precisely this point: ⲛⲁⲡⲟⲥⲧⲟⲗⲟⲥ ⲁⲩⲡⲱⲣ [approx. nine letters missing then ⲧ|ⲟⲟⲩⲥⲟⲩ ⲉⲧ|ϣⲉ ⲟⲉⲓϣ|: “the apostles separated . . . [se]nt them to pr[each]” (9.9-11). But whether one ascribes this phrase it to some corruption in the text, with ⲕⲗⲓⲙⲁ or ⲥⲁ being the original word,8 or whether one sees the “four words” as the four cardinal directions,9 or whether one sees in “the four words” a reference to the four canonical gospels,10 the overall point for our purposes remains the same. Under any of these interpretations, this section shows the apostles going out into the world to preach and spread the good news. Despite the fact that they are going in four different directions, or preaching four different gospels, they are nonetheless unified, having been made so by their revela8)

Discussed Meyer 1981, p. 160; Bethge 1978, p. 169, note 54; Wisse 1991, p. 250. Bethge 1997, p. 149; Bethge 2001, p. 676 note 75. 10) My own view, in which I follow Ménard (1977, p. 47) and Meyer (1991, p. 251), who refers to Irenaeus’ Adv. Haer. III.11.8, four gospels for the τέσσαρα κλίματα τοῦ κόσμου. 9)

The Letter of Peter and its Message


tion. Thus, from her point of view the link between persecution and Christian mission would have been established as a rule in the paradigmatic period marking the start of widespread missionary activity. If so, one is lead to believe that she sees persecution as simply a fundamental fact of Christian life, without necessarily having a specific situation in mind. The way in which persecution is linked to the very history of the cosmos and the underlying cosmic forces as well as to the paradigmatic career of the Saviour favours this assessment alternative. Is the Letter a Petrine Document? Given the prominence of Peter in the narrative, it is logical to argue that the Letter is a Petrine document. However, as we have seen above, the situation is more complicated than this. It is true that Peter is quite definitely the leader of the apostolic circle, both in a this-worldly and in a spiritual sense—note, for instance, his reception of the Spirit before the rest of the apostles (139.14). But the question then arises: Is Peter’s prominence due to the author’s own sympathies in the matter, or is it caused by her faithful reflection of the situation as presented in this section of her source-text, namely Acts? The way in which the author harmonizes the apostolic revelation with Pauline influences strongly suggests the latter explanation. Peter is the leader at this point in history, true, but his revelation is being set in a distinctly Pauline mould, in form as in content. The author’s own preference is clearly for a unified, harmonious Christian church; but to judge by the account that she has left us, her conceptions of several fundamental elements of that church followed (gnostic) Pauline lines. This conclusion nuances, but need not contradict, the assessment of Terence Smith in his work on early Christian Petrine controversies. Speaking of the Letter, Smith ascribes its esteem for Peter to its use of Acts: it is “direct result of the author’s use of the early chapters of Acts as a model” (Smith 1985 p. 197). I would merely extend this observation by noting that the author’s development of her Actsian heritage implicitly undermines its Petrine focus. Paradoxically, the fact that Paul is never mentioned or explicitly referred to in the Letter does not prevent it from being a powerfully Pauline document. Conclusion Overall, then, I hope to have shown thus far that the Letter is a unified and coherent work, in which we see a gnostic author working with consider-


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able skill and nuance, exploiting several different literary genres in an imaginative and creative fashion. Her story is precisely set historically in the context of the events described in Acts 7-9, and she is creating a new story within this fictional universe. The purpose of this new story is first of all to validate gnostic beliefs by showing that the apostles themselves were the recipients of gnostic revelations; second, to argue for the essential unity of the Christian message by linking these gnostic revelations to Christ’s teaching prior to his crucifixion; third, to argue for the essential unity of the Christian church by showing how revelation is hindered by apostolic divisiveness, and how gnostic revelation harmonizes with and in fact requires active this-worldly missionary efforts and persecution; and, fourth and finally, to show that the apostolic revelation coheres with Paul’s revelation on the road to Damascus, thus completing the apostolic circle. Thus the Letter can ultimately be seen as an irenic work, conciliatory on any number of levels. Christ’s post-resurrectional teachings are reconciled with his earthly career; Philip is reconciled with the other apostles; the Jerusalem circle is reconciled with Paul; and it provides as well a justification for the reconciliation of gnostic Christians with non-gnostic Christians.

3. The Letter and Nag Hammadi Codex VIII In the preceding discussion of the Letter on its own terms, I hope to have clarified some of the problematic issues that have surrounded this work over the past generation. But of course the Letter has not come down to us on its own. Rather, it is found in definite contexts, namely Codex Tchacos and Nag Hammadi Codex VIII. In this paper we have been working with the Nag Hammadi version of the Letter, and our focus will remain on Nag Hammadi even as we shift outward from the specific text to the codex that contains it, in order to address one more problematic issue related to the Letter, namely its codicological context. (For discussion of the logic underlying codex Tchacos, see Brankaer/Bethge 2007.) Scholarly interest in codicological organization has been growing over the past decade, and with good reason. It is hard to imagine that the codices in which gnostic texts are found were assembled randomly. Their contents must have been chosen, although we cannot say how large a selection the compilers had to draw from, and ordered.

The Letter of Peter and its Message


In some cases this choice and ordering may have been casual, or superficial. In many cases, however, it is clear that considerable thought has been put into the selection and arrangement of the various writings. Such is the case, for example, in Nag Hammadi codex V, the so-called “apocalyptic codex,” or in the three-volume collection of Nag Hammadi codices I, XI, and VII (see on this Painchaud/Kaler 2007). Let us remember, too, that these codices are the only non-hypothetical contexts of use that we have for the vast majority of the gnostic writings: they are thus crucially important for our understanding of how these works were received, used, and read by their owners. But does this apply to the codex containing the Nag Hammadi version of the Letter? Some, following in Bethge’s footsteps (Bethge 1978, p. 162), have argued that the Letter was included in Nag Hammadi Codex VIII simply because of its length: it was short enough to fit into a codex after the extremely long work Zostrianos. As Birger Pearson recently put it, “the Nag Hammadi version [of the Letter] . . . was probably chosen for inclusion in Codex VIII because it is short enough to fit on the remaining pages of the codex, after the tractate Zostrianos . . . The two tractates are not in any way related to one another in terms of their content” (Pearson 2007, p. 244). But there is more to be said on the matter than this. In fact, the Letter’s presence gives evidence of careful planning on the part of those who organized the codex. Before exposing my own views, I should note that Michael Williams has also argued for the presence of a coherent design underlying codex VIII individually as well as the pair of codices IV-VIII (Williams 1996, pp. 251252). While our understandings of the codicological logic overlap at several points, and while his arguments have definitely influenced my own understanding, we also have quite considerable differences. For the moment, I will summarize his views, but the reader is urged to consult Williams’ work directly. In his view, the organizational principles underlying codices IV-VIII are the same as those underlying codex III. In both of these cases, the collection begins with the Apocryphon of John, which tells of “primordial origins” and can be seen as a rewritten Genesis. Following this, we get in both cases the Egyptian Gospel, which presents us with “the divine Seth’s autobiography” as well as continuing the theme of “primordial origins.” After this, the two collections diverge: in codex III, we get Eugnostos, whereas Zostrianos is the next work in the IV-VIII collection. Both of these, Williams argues, present “ancient testimony” dealing with the nature of the transcendent


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realm. Finally, codex III contains the Sophia of Jesus Christ and the Dialogue of the Savior, while in codex VIII we have the Letter. Williams argues that these works present “Christ’s revelation to his disciples.” Thus in Williams’ view both codices share a three-stage progression, moving forward temporally from primordial origins, to the testimony of an ancient figure about the heavenly realms, to Christ’s contemporary revelation. My own view puts more weight on the frame stories of the various works, and their relative degrees of explicit Christian affiliation. In Nag Hammadi Codex VIII, the Letter is preceded by a not-explicitly-Christian work entitled Zostrianos. This extremely long and poorly preserved work was the only other writing contained in the codex. The overwhelming majority of Zostrianos seems to have dealt with the revelatory experiences undergone by its protagonist, but it also includes a frame story that has strong resemblances to the Letter’s frame story. The introductory section of Zostrianos presents us with a narrator who has been partially enlightened. He separates himself from the others around him because of his “holiness” and “sinlessness,” and seems to have been sustained in his quest for knowledge by visions of “the perfect child.” But although he searches for knowledge in his ancestral traditions, he does not find satisfactory answers. His suffering over the lack of knowledge almost drives him to suicide, but he is saved by an angel of knowledge, who raises him into the heavens and reveals the mysteries of existence to him. On his return, he becomes a preacher of salvation, inviting others to learn from him and flee death, despite the fact that they will be “reproved” and treated badly by the archontic rulers of the world. As was the case in the Letter, here too we see a state of initial suffering leading to revelation, which then will be inevitably accompanied by persecution. The initial suffering here seems to be self-inflicted rather that arising from persecution as in the Letter, but the narrator of Zostrianos also evidently has problems with his relationship to those around him (whom he rejects in stinging terms) and his ancestral traditions (which he castigates as being insufficient to satisfy him). Following his revelation, he takes up a career as a missionary. His message is based on the esoteric knowledge that he received in his revelation, and he warns his listeners that those adhering to his message must expect persecution from the rulers of the world. Although the revelations that the Letter and Zostrianos describe differ greatly, the two works are very similar in terms of the patterns of their frame stories, their cautionary insistence on the inevitable links between revelation,

The Letter of Peter and its Message


suffering and persecution. This narrative and thematic similarity between the two works helps to explain their presence together in codex VIII. It is also significant to note the fact that Zostrianos, a work with no explicitly Christian features, is followed by the very explicitly Christian Letter. The Letter could well have served to reassure readers of the codex of the compatibility of the sort of revelation experienced by the protagonist of Zostrianos with Christianity, by showing Peter and the apostles undergoing their own, similar, revelation. Let us note as well that the expressions in Zostrianos of its protagonist’s dissatisfaction with his ancestral traditions and “the god of my fathers” (3.16-17) could be used by the Christian reader as a justification for linking the setting of Zostrianos to the context of difficulty between the apostles and the non-Christian Jewish community that we see in the Letter. Zostrianos, read by itself, does not appear to be Christian; when read in conjunction with the Letter, as the codex’s compilers seem to have intended, it becomes far more amenable to Christian interpretation: it is “codicologically Christianized” through its numerous parallels with the Letter. As Michael Williams has noted, “the temptation has been to think of [the Letter] as an afterthought to the volume’s real purpose, a short piece that happened to fit in the available space. But in fact it may have been precisely [the Letter] that gave Zost. its Christian ‘point’ in the mind of the scribe” (Williams 1996, p. 252). This suggestion becomes even more interesting when we take Nag Hammadi Codex IV into account as well. It has been linked, in terms of its construction and handwriting, to codex VIII (Williams 1992), and it is possible that the two codices were intended as a two volume set (Williams 1996). If this is the case, the set might have begun in codex IV with the Apocryphon of John—a tale of revelation whose unambiguously Christian frame story is formally very similar to those of Zostrianos and the Letter—followed by the Gospel of the Egyptians a.k.a. the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, a not explicitly Christian work, and then continued in codex VIII with Zostrianos, again not explicitly Christian but similar in form to the Apocryphon of John and the Letter, and then finally ending up with the Letter. The two not explicitly Christian texts are in the middle of the collection, bookended by clearly Christian works11 whose frame stories link them to 11)

Whatever the alleged origins of the Apocryphon of John, the work as we have it in the Nag Hammadi collection and the Berlin codex is clearly intended to be Christian, as shown by its frame story.


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the apostolic period and to revelations of the risen Christ. The Christian reader of the collection would be reassured both at the start and the end of her reading as to the essential Christianity of the collection as a whole. And not just Christianity in general, either: the stories told in the Apocryphon of John and the Letter are set in similar circumstances in the early years of Christianity (the beginnings of worldly persecution leading to revelation), and as we saw above some aspects of Zostrianos could lead the reader to imagine that it involved a similar context. These works come together, then, to tell of the awesome revelations mediated by Christ, delivered to the first generation of Christian leaders as they struggle with opposition. Thus we see that the position and presence of the Letter in Nag Hammadi Codex VIII makes perfect sense. Rather than being an afterthought, it provides a Christian model of the sort of revelatory experience presented in Zostrianos when considered in the light of codex VIII alone. When considered in the light of codices IV and VIII, it is even more evocative and appropriate, ending the two-volume collection as it began, with an explicitly Christian tale of revelation set in the apostolic period. It cannot be dismissed as mere “Buchfüller.”

Appendix: Revelation Dialogues In this paper I have discussed the coherence and contents of the Letter’s frame story, rather than the gnostic revelation itself. This being the case, I would like to conclude with a brief look at the reception that revelation dialogue frame stories have tended to receive in scholarly discussion. In fact, there has been a tendency in prior work on the literary genre of the revelation dialogues—a genre to which the Letter belongs—to denigrate the importance of the frame story. The description of the revelation dialogue as a literary genre has been particularly associated with two scholars, namely Kurt Rudolph, whose foundational article was published in 1968, and Pheme Perkins, whose book on the revelation dialogues was published in 1980.12 Rudolph associated these works quite strongly with erotapokriseis literature, the catechetical and extremely formulaic collections of “questions and answers” that were a popular means of discussing issues related to 12)

The reader seeking a much more complete discussion of the history of research is directed to the first section of Hartenstein 2000.

The Letter of Peter and its Message


high-status literature. In Rudolph’s opinion, revelation dialogues were not “real” dialogues such as those found in philosophical writings; the sole purpose of their frame stories and the interaction between characters (who are cardboard figures, “without flesh and blood”) was to provide an excuse for the presentation of their doctrinal content. In the wake of the late 1970s enthusiasm for morphological analysis of early Christian and Jewish writings, Pheme Perkins undertook to describe the genre following the example of Collins et al. in their work on apocalyptic literature. In her section on the narrative setting of these dialogues, she discusses typical geographical and temporal settings, the recipients, their initial mental state, the appearance of the Redeemer, his initial address, questions directed to him by the disciples, the Redeemer’s commissioning of the disciples, his ascension, and any narrative finale elements that may be present. Although she does deal with the frame stories in considerable depth, bringing out their strong associations with the New Testament gospel accounts, nonetheless for Perkins as for Rudolph these frame stories, and thus also the characters and their interactions in works of this sort, are taken as being very standard and clichéd. In her book, the real focus of these works is taken to be the transmission of esoteric information; the frame story (including the activities, opinions and states of mind of the disciples) is merely the means by which this transmission is accomplished. These assumptions have coloured much of the subsequent scholarship on the various revelation dialogues. I have argued elsewhere at some length that they are in need of re-examination and will not repeat my arguments here. However, I do wish to point out that the nuanced, sophisticated use that the author of the Letter has made of Acts 7-9 certainly cautions us against applying clichéd conclusions about the “formulaic” nature of these frame stories to this work. Here we have what at first looks like an utterly generic and stereotypical frame story (the setting on a mountain, the voice from heaven in response to anguished prayers, etc.) and yet it turns out on examination to be the product of a considerable amount of thought and creativity on the part of the author, as well as being specifically located and carefully integrated into sacred history. In addition to this, it meticulously develops the historical tradition: its presentation of a previously unattested incident in the early days of the church is carefully presented so as to advance sophisticated theological point. Thus I would hope that in addition to demonstrating the coherence and subtlety of this specific work, the present investigation might serve as a


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contribution towards rethinking some of the old, pejorative stereotypes about the frame stories of revelation dialogues.

References Bethge, Hans-Gebhard, 1978. “Der sogennante ‘Brief des Petrus an Philippus’.” Theologische Literaturzeitung 103: 161-170. ——, 1997. Der Brief des Petrus an Philippus: ein neutestamentliches Apokryphon aus dem Fund von Nag Hammadi (NHC VIII,2). Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 141. Berlin: Akademie Verlag. ——, 2001. “Der Brief des Petrus an Philippus (NHC VIII,2).” Pages 663-676 in Nag Hammadi Deutsch. ed. Schenke et al. Die Griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte 8. Berlin: de Gruyter. Brankaer, Johanna, and Bethge, Hans-Gebhard, 2007. Codex Tchacos: Texte und Analysen. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 161. Berlin: de Gruyter. Crum, Walter Ewing, 2000. Coptic Dictionary. Originally published 1939 by Oxford University Press, special edition published by Sandpiper Books. New York. Evans, Craig, Robert Webb, and Richard Wiebe, 1993. Nag Hammadi Texts and the Bible: A Synopsis and Index. New Testament Tools and Studies 18. Leiden: Brill. Hartenstein, Judith, 2000. Die Zweite Lehre: Erscheinungen des Auferstandenen als Rahmenerzählungen frühchristlicher Dialoge.Texte und Untersuchungen 146. Berlin: Akademie Verlag. Horner, George, 1910. The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Southern Dialect, otherwise called Sahidic and Thebaic: with critical apparatus, literal English translation, register of the fragments and estimate of the version. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Kasser, Rodolphe et al., 2007. The Gospel of Judas together with the Letter of Peter to Philip, James, and a Book of Allogenes from Codex Tchacos. Critical Edition. Washington: National Geographic. Koschorke, Klaus, 1977. “Eine gnostische Pfingstpredigt: Zur Auseinandersetzung zwischen gnostischem und kirchlichem Christentum am Beispiel der ‘Epistula Petri ad Phillippum’ (NHC VIII,2).” ZThK 74: 323-343. ——, 1979. “Eine gnostische Paraphrase des johanneischen Prologs: Zur Interpretation von Epistula Petri ad Philippum (NHC VIII,2).” Vigiliae Christianae 33: 382-392. Luttikhuizen, Gerard P., 1979. “The Letter of Peter to Philip and the New Testament.” Pages 96-102 in Nag Hammadi and Gnosis, ed. R. McL. Wilson. Leiden: Brill. ——, 2006. Gnostic Revisions of Genesis Stories and Early Jesus Traditions. Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 58. Leiden: Brill. Marjanen, Antti, 2002. “The suffering of one who is a stranger to suffering: The crucifixion of Jesus in the Letter of Peter to Philip.” Pages 487-498 in Fair Play: Diversity and Conflicts in Early Christianity, ed. Ismo Dunderberg, Christopher Tuckett, and Kari Syreeni. New Testament Studies 103. Leiden: Brill. ——, 2006. “The Figure of Authades in the Nag Hammadi and Related Documents.” Pages 567-582 in Coptica—Gnostica—Manichaica: Mélanges offerts à Wolf-Peter Funk, ed. by Louis Painchaud and Paul-Hubert Poirier. Bibliothèque copte de Nag Hammadi, section “Études” 7. Québec/Louvain: Les Presses de l’Université Laval/Éditions Peeters.

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Matthews, Christopher, 2002. Philip: Apostle and Evangelist. Configurations of a Tradition. Supplements to Novum Testamentum CV. Leiden: Brill. Ménard, Jacques, 1977. La lettre de Pierre à Philippe. Bibliothèque copte de Nag Hammadi, section “Textes” 1. Québec: Les Presses de l’Université Laval. Meyer, Marvin, 1981. The Letter of Peter to Philip: Text, Translation and Commentary. SBL Dissertation Series 53. Chico: Scholars Press. ——, 1991. “NHC VIII,2: The Letter of Peter To Philip.” Pages 227-251 in Nag Hammadi Codex VIII, ed. Bentley Layton. Nag Hammadi Studies XXXI. Leiden: Brill. Painchaud, Louis, 1996. “The Use of Scripture in Gnostic Literature.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 4(2): 129-146. Painchaud, Louis and Kaler, Michael, 2007. “From the Prayer of the Apostle Paul to the Three Steles of Seth: Codices I, XI, and VII from Nag Hammadi Viewed as a Collection.” Vigiliae Christianae 61:445-469. Pearson, Birger, 2007. Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions and Literature. Minneapolis: Fortress. Perkins, Pheme, 1980. The Gnostic Dialogue. New York: Paulist Press. Smith, Terence, 1985. Petrine Controversies in Early Christianity. WUNT 2 Reihe 15. Tübingen: Mohr. Williams, Michael, 1996. Rethinking “Gnosticism:” An argument for dismantling a dubious category. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ——, 1992. “The Scribes of Nag Hammadi Codices IV, V, VI, VIII and IX.” Pages 334342 in Marguerite Rassart-Debergh and Julien Ries, eds., Actes du IVe congrès copte: Louvain-la-neuve, 5-10 septembre 1988. II: De la linguistique au gnosticisme. Louvain: Institut Orientaliste. Wisse, Frederik, 1991. “The Letter of Peter to Philip: Notes to Text.” Pages 234-251 in Nag Hammadi Codex VIII, ed. Bentley Layton. Nag Hammadi Studies XXXI. Leiden: Brill.

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