I recently quoted Bart Ehrman on the Gospel of Peter’s narrative about a gigantic Jesus and a walking, talking cross. Although I was more interested in the (angelomorphic) height of Jesus, Mark Goodacre comments on the Gospel’s description of the walking, talking cross, reiterating an innovative interpretation which he presented recently at SBL International 2011, and which he earlier developed on his blog.
Mark points out that – even despite the weirdness of the Gospel of Peter (which is nearly as strange as the Gospel of Matthew with its dead saints breaking out of tombs and walking around Jerusalem) – the narrative of God chatting to a walking, talking cross comes quite out of left field. Unlike the canonical Gospels, which the orthodox Church was interested in preserving, the earliest witness for the Gospel of Peter is from the eighth century AD, and the manuscript (P.Cair. 10759) is in many respects not very dependable. Mark Goodacre’s solution is that “cross” (σταυρον) in this text mistranslates “the Crucified One” (σταυρωθέντα). If so, the Gospel of Peter does not narrate an angelomorphic, gigantic Jesus exiting the tomb and then narrate God chatting to a walking, talking cross. Rather, Peter narrates this very tall, angelomorphic Jesus exiting the tomb, and then God asking him if he’d happened to preach the Gospel in Hades on Easter Saturday – a much more common early Christian narrative progression (cf. 1 Peter 4.6; Ignatius, To the Magnesians 9.2; Epistle of the Apostles 27; Gospel of Nicodemus 19; Sibylline Oracles 1.327-378; 8.310-311; Irenaeus, Against all Heresies 4.27.1-2; Hippolytus, Antichrist 26, 45). Although Mark’s paper is yet to be developed for publication, you can read more about it here, here, and here.
There are certain advantages that this reading brings. There are advantages both to the broader narrative context and the pericope itself. With respect to the broader narrative, now it is no longer the case that a cross emerges from a tomb that it never entered. With respect to the narrower context, it overcomes the incongruity that the three men all stretch as far as – or beyond – the heavens, but the voice from heaven then addresses the cross back on earth. In the revised reading, the voice in heaven directly addresses the crucified one, who is beyond the heavens. Moreover, on the usual reading, the witnesses should be able to see the cross speaking, so there is no need for the note that they “there was heard the answer, ‘Yes’”, a line far more appropriate to the reading with the conjectural emendation. On this reading, they only hear the answer because it is the crucified one speaking, and his head is beyond the heavens. Further, the conjectural emendation removes the extraordinary situation whereby Jesus is upstaged, at his own resurrection, by his cross.
- Mark Goodacre, “A Walking, Talking Cross or the Walking, Talking Crucified One? A conjectural emendation in the Gospel of Peter 10.39, 42″, Society of Biblical Literature International Meeting, London 2011
Both textually and contextually, then, Mark’s conjectural emendation is very persuasive, I think.