Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Paul Foster on Gospel of Peter

Of tangential relevance to this blog (relevant for comparative purposes) is the article by Paul Foster, Edinburgh, in the latest edition of New Testament Studies.

'Are there any Early Fragments of the So-Called Gospel of Peter?', New Testament Studies 52 (2006) 1-28. Here's the abstract:

The first text in the Akhmîm codex discovered in Upper Egypt in 1886–87 was confidently identified as the Gospel of Peter, mentioned by Eusebius in his description of the activities of the second-century bishop Serapion. Although the Akhmîm text is dated palaeographically between the seventh and ninth centuries, it is seen as being a witness to a text that dates from at least as early as the second century. This position appeared to have been strengthened by the identification of a number of early papyrus fragments as belonging to the Gospel of Peter. This paper calls into question such identifications, and consequently suggests caution should be exercised before too quickly making the conclusion that the text from Akhmîm is to be identified with the second-century Gospel of Peter.


Peter M. Head said...

It is an interesting argument, but I don't find it particularly persuasive.
1) Foster somehow thinks that the identification of the Akhmim text with the Gospel of Peter (acc to the arguments that he outlines and never refutes on pp. 1-3) somehow depended on the later discoveries of earlier GP texts for authentication. But this doesn't follow. It is clear that this monk had a very unusual codex with some very ancient material (Enoch in Greek, Peter text, Apocalypse of Peter). If the 'Peter text' has a good level of fit with what we know of the Gospel of Peter from second and third century sources then that is an argument. Foster is rather vague on what he makes of those arguments. But if the other material in the Akhmim codex clearly goes back to much earlier times then it is not a great stretch to say that the Akhmim Peter text may as well.
2) No one (Foster included) has yet done a proper job on relating all three texts within the Akhmim codex (with their amazingly divergent palaeographical features) [on the fourth text also mentioned by Foster I don't recall ever seeing photos].
3) Foster has a good argument - let's be cautious about all these confident identifications of material to the Gospel of Peter since the texts are not identical. But pursuing this argument enthusiastically makes him take his own illogical and unproven leaps.
4) The broader question raised by Foster's questions are very interesting in relation to textual freedom. Before Foster we would have said that we have a number of early fragments of the Gospel of Peter but the text seems to have been handled with extreme freedom. Much more freedom than was the case for canonical gospel texts.
Now Foster is arguing that the 'freedom' is such as to call into question the basic identification of the pieces with each other. It is obviously worth another look at this whole area, but it still strikes me that popular not quite orthodox non-canonical texts may have been handled with greater textual freedom (Greek Gospel of Thomas reflects this too).
5) I suspect the Luhrmann's of this world will want to respond to Foster at some point.