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The Acts of Peter

The Acts of Peter provides a number of entertaining accounts of the mis­ sionary adventures of the leader of the apostles, including several of his sermons and a number of his miracles. Much of the narrative concerns a series of contests between Peter and his nemesis, the Satanically inspired sorcerer Simon Magus, who presents himself as the true representative of God on earth. The same Simon is elsewhere portrayed as the first Gnostic and arch-heretic (see, e.g., the Epistle of the Apostles, above), although here there is less attention paid to his theology than to his claims of divine superiority.1 These claims are completely refuted by Peter, who through the power of God is able to make dogs and newborn infants speak and to restore smoked tunas and dead people back to life. The contests reach a climax when Simon uses his powers to fly like a bird over the temples and hills of Rome; Peter responds by calling upon God to smite him in mid-air. When Simon crashes to the ground, the crowds, convinced of Peter’s superior power, rush to the scene to stone Simon and leave him for dead (chaps. 32–33). The account ends with Peter’s arrest and execution, in which, at his own request, he is crucified upside down; hanging on the cross, he explains to those nearby the symbolic reasons for his request, utters a long prayer, and then dies—only to appear to one of his followers afterwards to upbraid him for providing him with such a lavish burial (chaps. 36–40). In many ways, the bulk of the Acts of Peter—that is, the miracle contests between Peter and Simon Magus—reflects the traditions that also lie behind the “Pseudo-Clementine” literature, including the Homilies of Clement (see below). The Acts of Peter itself appears to have been in circulation some time before the end of the second century.

1 For the importance of Simon Magus as an opponent of proto-orthodox heresy-hunters, see Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 165–67.

Translation by J. K. Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) 401–10; 416–26; used with permission.

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