Tag Archives: Rumi

Peter’s Daughter

28 Dec

To anyone attentive to portrayals of women, the first scene in the Acts of Peter is so offensive, it resists all attempts at sympathy. After Peter publicly heals a group of sick people, one person in the audience asks him why he hasn’t healed his own daughter, who lies in a corner, completely paralyzed on one side. He then proceeds to heal her, just to show God can (much to the rejoicing of the crowd) and then re-paralyzes her. After all, God once told him that she, being so beautiful, “will harm many souls, if her body remains well!”

What follows isn’t much better: a story about a gardener’s only daughter, whom God kills because she’ll run away with an older man if she stays alive. Death is “expedient for her soul.” In spite of this “blessing,” her “distrustful” father wants her alive again, and she’s resurrected. And, in a world where God can’t be wrong, she runs off.

The Acts of Peter should not be creatively interpreted without attending to these extremely violent, sexist scenes; at least, it won’t be by me. Although centuries later and continents away, women’s bodies still function as contested spaces where politics and power play out. In the Acts of Peter, they’re sites for God’s power to manifest, but at women’s expenses just the same. Reduced to a one-dimensional, sexual object, Peter’s daughter is physically punished for her own attractiveness (Why will she harm many souls? Doesn’t that responsibility reside in the people who’d act “sinfully” while attracted to her?), and blamed in the way rape victims are wrongly blamed (e.g., “She was asking for it.”).

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