Delighting in the Sufferings of Others: Early Christian “Schadenfreude” and the Function of the “Apocalypse of Peter” -- By: Michael J. Gilmour

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 16:1 (NA 2006)
Article: Delighting in the Sufferings of Others: Early Christian “Schadenfreude” and the Function of the “Apocalypse of Peter”
Author: Michael J. Gilmour


Delighting in the Sufferings of Others: Early Christian “Schadenfreude” and the Function of the “Apocalypse of Peter”

Michael J. Gilmour

Providence College

Otterburne, Manitoba

Fantasies of eschatological retribution in early Christian literature seem incongruous with Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness and the love of enemies. This paper proposes that the Christian victims of violence addressed by the Apocalypse of Peter were conflicted. On the one hand they were aware that Jesus expected them to respond lovingly to their persecutors, but on the other they experienced a very normal emotional response known as Schadenfreude—finding joy in the sufferings of others. It is argued here that ‘Peter’ attempts to justify his/their violent fantasies by demonstrating the propriety of finding pleasure in the expectation that the wicked would be punished.

Key Words: Apocalypse of Peter, violence, Schadenfreude, Peter, judgment

Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the Lord will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them. (Prov 24:17-18)

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27)

Some early Jewish and Christian writers were clearly uncomfortable with literary depictions of brutal judgment and found ways to sidestep or distance themselves from sources that included them. We find Josephus, for example, discreetly omitting a particularly nasty story.1 Others cast violently inclined characters in a negative light.2 Such strategies for avoiding

or critiquing violent biblical stories are understandable because many other texts describe God as loving, merciful, and slow to anger (e.g., Exod 34:6-7; Ps 145:8-9; Wis 11:22-24, 26). He does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek 18:23, 32; 33:11) and indeed waits patiently for them to amend their sinful ways (e.g., Wis 12:1-2; You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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