YCAS 2015 Profiles 7: Pamela Mullins Reaves

This is the seventh in a series of profiles of the presenters at the upcoming 2015 York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium to be held September 25-26 at York University in Toronto. Remember, if you register for the symposium, you will receive drafts of the papers in advance, thus enabling you to participate more fully in the discussions that follow. For registration information, visit the YCAS 2015 web site (HERE).

Reaves Religion PhotoPamela Mullins Reaves is Assistant Professor of Religion at Colorado College, where she teaches courses in biblical studies, early Judaism, and early Christianity. She recently completed her Ph.D. in Ancient Mediterranean Religions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2013). Reaves’ research focuses on late second-century Christian traditions, primarily those that reveal diverse perspectives and related rifts among early Christians, especially regarding martyrdom.

Her study of the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter (NHC VII,3) has encouraged her to examine competing claims of apostolic authority more closely. In this text, suffering on the physical level lacks value, exhibited through its revelatory report of the crucifixion. “I understand the association of this view with Petrine authorship as significant, reflecting a challenge to the emerging proto-orthodox traditions of Peter as a key martyr,” notes Reaves. Considering another Petrine apocryphal writing from Nag Hammadi, the Letter of Peter to Philip (NHC VIII,2; Cod. Tch.), alongside the Apocalypse of Peter, Reaves similarly understands its perspective on suffering as complicated, perhaps a counter to enthusiasm for martyrdom in the early Church.

Reaves’ interest in these Petrine apocryphal writings is rooted in her ongoing research on early Christian texts that minimize or reject the significance of a martyr’s death. In addition to the Apocalypse of Peter, she examines the Testimony of Truth (NHC IX,3) and Clement of Alexandria’s Stromateis. Considering the intra-Christian tension apparent in each text, Reaves shows how these challenges to martyrdom heighten divisions among Christians. In a related project, Reaves is studying interpretations of John the Baptist and denunciations of water baptism in two Nag Hammadi texts.

Reaves looks forward to drawing on her experience at the York Apocrypha Symposium for both her research and teaching, particularly as she develops a new undergraduate course on “Making & Faking Scriptures.”

Abstract

“Pseudo-Peter and Persecution: (Counter-)Evaluations of Suffering in Coptic Apocalypse of Peter (NHC VII,3) and The Letter of Peter to Philip (NHC VIII,2)”

In this paper, I examine how concerns regarding persecution and suffering likely contributed to Peter’s role as the pseudo-author of two early Christian texts: Coptic Apocalypse of Peter (NHC VII,3) and The Letter of Peter to Philip (NHC VIII,2; Cod. Tch.). I show how both texts rely on and, to some extent, sustain the expectation of Christian suffering, but revise the nature and value of the experience. Peter’s insight on suffering is achieved through each text’s revelation regarding the crucifixion. In Ep. Pet. Phil., the crucifixion is viewed as one moment in the fuller experience of incarnation; in the latter, Christ suffers, though in death he remains a “stranger” to suffering (138,18; 139,21-22). Apoc. Pet.’s portrait of the crucifixion involves multiple divine manifestations of Christ, all of which escape physical suffering, a fate experienced by an irrelevant bodily remnant (81,4-82,3). These clarifications on the crucifixion diminish the relative value of physical suffering and, relatedly, martyrdom. My analysis thus challenges readings of Ep. Pet. Phil. as supportive of martyrdom. Rather, the tension apparent in its portrait of Christ’s suffering more likely reflects a cautious approach to a suffering death. Analyzing Ep. Pet. Phil. alongside Apoc. Pet. supports this view. Moreover, clues of intra-Christian discord within both texts, including Apoc. Pet.’s criticism of encouragement for martyrdom, also suggest that varied views on suffering are a key source of debate. The selection of Peter as the pseudonymous recipient of Christ’s revelation is thus especially relevant. I assert that this choice is guided by both his central role in proto-orthodox circles and his association with suffering in established traditions, including reports of his own martyrdom (Acts, 1 Pet, 1 Clem, Acts Pet.). Apoc. Pet. and Ep. Pet. Phil. adapt and extend these traditions in a seemingly deliberate attempt to redefine Peter’s role as a key martyr, or witness, who receives and conveys special revelation. In doing so, these texts employ pseudonymity as a strategy for countering alternative early Christian perspectives that value suffering and celebrate martyrdom.

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