Bart Ehrman now podcasts… via a prophet

Bart Ehrman, Professor of New Testament at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has commenced a podcast: The Bart Ehrman Podcast. But his words are spoken by another, his prophet on earth, John P. Mueller.

It involves a weekly podcast in which John reads two posts that have previously appeared on the blog, some of recent vintage and some archived, often from long ago.

So John P. Mueller reads posts from The Bart Ehrman Blog. The Blog is only available in full behind a paywall (to raise money for charities fighting poverty, hunger, and homelessness). The podcast is free, but only includes a selection of the posts on Ehrman’s blog. That is, the blog is not-for-profit but not via prophet, and the podcast involves no fee but is via prophet.

While Mueller’s voice differs from Ehrman’s slightly, his words are the ipsissima verba of Ehrman, a feature which is – after all – much more than can be said for the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament.

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Jesus was a Giant – But Let’s Be Reasonable: There was no walking, talking cross!

Mark Goodacre
Mark Goodacre

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.

Jesus was a Giant! … or was he, really? Bart Ehrman in the Huffington Post

Bart Ehrman, for all his sins, is the alchemist who turns dull textual criticism into the stuff of popular bestsellers. In today’s column for Huffpost Religion, Ehrman titillates readers with “accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus that did not make it into the New Testament”. One of his examples is from The Gospel of Peter:

The Giant Jesus and the Walking-Talking Cross. Remarkably, the Gospels of the New Testament do not tell the story of Jesus emerging from the tomb on Easter morning. But the Gospel of Peter does. In this text, discovered near the end of the nineteenth century, Jesus comes out of the tomb as tall as a mountain, supported by two angels, nearly as tall themselves. And behind them, from the tomb, there emerges the cross, which has a conversation with God in heaven, assuring him that the message of salvation has now gone to those in the underworld. How a Gospel like this was ever lost is anyone’s guess.

– Bart Ehrman, “What Didn’t Make It Into The Bible?”, The Huffington Post, 21 July 2011

Although Jesus is certainly gigantic in the Gospel of Peter, technically the ascending Jesus was angelic in height, not “giant”. Transformed into an angelomorphic form, Jesus is accompanied by those other angels who accompanied him on his ascent to heavenly glory. These angels are probably Gabriel and Michael, and two angels are often depicted as transporting the righteous to heaven (cf. Ascension of Isaiah 7.23; 2 Enoch 1.4-9; 24.1; Hermes, Vis 1.4.3). Angels by the first century AD could be really, really tall, as big as mountains – whereas Giants, as only half-breeds of angels and humans, would have been somewhere between human height (about 5-and-a-quarter feet tall) and angelic height.

Have a read of Ehrman’s column, where he concludes that, “however [these books that did not make it into the New Testament] are judged today, at one time they were considered by some of Jesus’ followers to be sacred Scripture.”