The Lost Gospel
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Gospel of Peter Discovered

A.D. 1886

In Christian iconography St. Peter is often shown holding the keys to heaven, as shown in this painting from St. Catherine's monastery at Mt. Sinai, Egypt.
In Christian iconography St. Peter is often shown holding the keys to heaven, as shown in this painting from St. Catherine's monastery at Mt. Sinai, Egypt.
Photograph by Kenneth Garrett/National Geographic

The Gospel of Peter is one of several non-canonical Gospels that were in circulation during Christianity's formative early centuries. It was likely penned in the middle of the second century.

Like other Christian writings, the Gospel fell from favor when church leaders strove to establish a Christian canon grounded in the four New Testament Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These writings represented what orthodox churchmen considered the true word on Jesus' life and teachings.

The Gospel of Peter, by contrast, was considered heretical for several reasons, all concerned with the last week of Jesus' life. Surviving copies of the Gospel begin with Jesus' appearance before Pontius Pilate (who is largely exempted from guilt in this text) and end with Jesus' resurrection. Yet depictions of these events, particularly the resurrection, are somewhat at odds with more familiar scripture.

The Gospel of Peter maintains that Jesus' resurrected body only appeared to be flesh and blood but was not. This view is at odds with the core Christian belief in Jesus' physical resurrection. The text also describes additional witnesses to Jesus' resurrection, including Roman soldiers and Jewish officials who shared responsibility for the event.

The Gospel's author may or may not have used the New Testament Gospels as sources—there is a difference of learned opinion on this point. Scholars are nearly unanimous, however, in the belief that St. Peter himself is not the author of this work, despite first person references meant to give that impression.

In 1886 archaeologist Urbain Bouriant discovered the surviving example of the Gospel, copied in the eighth century. It had rested for many centuries in an Egyptian monk's grave.