P.Berol. 21143, the Denial of Peter, and the Resurrection

P.Berol. 21143 (TM, Images) is a 4th–5th century papyrus fragment with writing on the recto (front) and verso (back). It is approximately 10cm by 10cm, so it is not huge. It contains what may be two different writings (one on the verso, one on the recto). The editio princeps is:

Sarischouli, Panagiota. “1. Zwei christliche Text.” Pages 5–18 in Berliner Griechische Papyri. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 1995.
P. 21143 R + V: Christlicher Text

P.Berol. 21143 (recto) from Berliner Papyrusdatenbank

Sarischouli’s transcription and my draft translation are available via my “Stuff Early Christians Read” project, but I reproduce the recto translation here:

  1. […].̣.̣.̣.̣[…].[…]
  2. […rem]ẹmbering denial of Pet[er…]*
  3. […con]c̣ẹṛning the faith he found[…]*
  4. […]. the burning heat of the .[…]
  5. […it ]ẉịṭhered. // For the …[…]*
  6. […] making payment of the fo[r]mer proceeḍṣ*
  7. […so that ourse]lves we must cry out, “patience!”*
  8. […]..[….] ọf̣ a master trụṭ[h]
  9. […].[…..]. in the one to deny
  10. […]…. in rememb[rance…]
  11. […]. in misfortune. Alle[leuia]
  12. […]..[..]..he will wash the .[…]
  13. […]. Master G[od…]
  14. […]., my of̣ [sins/sins/misfortunes]

For our purposes here, the interesting portion is the recto as it has a reference to “remembering the denial of Peter,” an obvious allusion to New Testament material (Mt 26:69–75 and parallels). There is too much missing text to do much more, though some phrases available elsewhere in the NT (“concerning the faith,” cf. 2Ti 3:8; 1Ti 1:19; 6:21; Ac 24:24) with the “he found” very possibly referring to Peter. Was there mention of him being restored? And what was withered by the burning heat?

The verso side of P.Berol. 21143 also has some phraseology reminiscent of Easter:

  1. […]. fleec(e) .. be(comes) .[…]*
  2. [was bor]n of a virgin a(nd) became li[ght? ]*
  3. [the pain of death] having ended a(nd) having ris[en the third day from the dead]*
  4. Giṿẹṛ ọf̣ Ḷịg̣ḥṭ, Ch(ris)t, the unapproach[able light]
  5. the e[y]ẹs in the mị[nd having opened]
  6. …. praise.[……..]. .[…]
  7. …. F(ath)er of the wor[ld…]*
  8. […]. .[.].. we glorify dai[ly…]
  9. […in the] temple of hoḷy glor[y … Jesus Christ who]
  10. [from the dead r]ọse up. We sin[g into all the ages…]
  11. […so that we] may worship the one who ṛọ[se up…]
  12. […] J(esu)s, tḥe stone rọḷḷẹḍ [away…]*
  13. […]…[…]

Here we have further doctrinal testimony: Jesus (likely the subject of the clauses at the start) being born of a virgin and becoming light. How he ended “the pain of death” and rose from the dead on the third day. Christ, equated with “Giver of light” and testimony about the “eyes in the mind” opening “the unapproachable light” (cf. 1Ti 6:16). While the easy place to go is to a gnostic reference of some sort, I’m not so sure because I think NT folks are to easy to paint stuff with a gnostic brush when the situation was likely more complicated.  Following this, there is testimony of Jesus Christ rising from the dead, that the one risen from the dead is worshipped, and reference to “the stone rolled away.”

This is incredible stuff!

We’re listening in on either a sermon or a hymn from the fourth or fifth century. This is 1500 years ago, at least. And people were testifying to the same story of Jesus’ death (complete with Peter’s denial) and his resurrection (with worship of the resurrected one).

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