Few scholars have yet worked on this text, but the early discussions indicate that it draws upon several earlier works from a Syriac milieu and new material was grafted onto the original core over the centuries. Much of the more recent sections of the text comprises apocalyptic visions announcing the coming of Mohammed (referred to as “the follower of the Archon,” “the leader of the children of the wolf,” and “the prophet of falsehood”) and the Islamic conquest of Egypt. In one memorable section, a Christian anti-biography of Mohammed is given by the risen Jesus, which begins: “O Peter, know that when the leader of the children of the wolf appears, he will be taught the faith, which he will learn from the straying sheep who will be banished by my church to the deserts, on account of his teaching about me the beliefs held by the Jews who hate me and my people. He will be a devouring wolf in sheep’s skins” (p. 250). Jesus goes on to say that Mohammed will be befriended by two Jews, who will write him a book (the Qur’an?) “compiled from all the books” (p. 252). It’s interesting to see in this biography some elements of historians’ reconstruction of Mohammed’s origins—that he was influenced by heretical Christians in Arabia, and that the Qur’an has connections with Syriac Christian liturgical texts.
Among the older materials incorporated in the text are a portion of the Testament of Abraham, sections of the Pseudo-Clementine Romance, and an otherwise-unknown account of the career of the apostle Paul. This account, found in book eight of the Garshuni version (p. 379–407), presents the apostle to the Gentiles in rather unflattering ways. Though he is converted on the road to Damascus as in Acts, Paul later appears in a pagan temple in Antioch where he challenges Peter to prove the power of Christ over that of the pagan deities. After successfully performing a series of miracles, Peter is then challenged to restore to life the king’s son, who has been dead for three years. Peter does so and the king and his court become believers. Then Paul reveals he only pretended to be a pagan in order to orchestrate the king’s conversion.
A similar contest occurs in Rome, this time leading to the conversion of the emperor (!). On both occasions Peter is surprised at Paul’s actions. After some tales of Peter and Paul’s missionary activities in North Africa and Ethiopia, the text concludes with Peter instructing his disciple Clement to write down all that he has revealed to him and to deposit the book in the archives of Rome. He then says, “As God liveth no one ought to divulge these mysteries to Paul [or be he Paul] or those who resemble him” (p. 405). He goes on to describe Paul as the one “who had tampered with the language of the books” (p. 406). The Garshuni Book of the Rolls is difficult to decipher, so conclusions about its contents must be tentative; nevertheless, it is tempting to see in this account of Paul evidence for the conflict between early groups of Jewish and Gentile Christians, a conflict seen also in the Pseudo-Clementine Romance, some of which is incorporated in this text.