The curious resurrection account in the Gospel of Peter (10.39–42) is not simply the author’s creative innovation, but is based on a Christocentric interpretation of LXX Ps 18.1–7. The Gospel of Peter’s unusual description of Jesus’ exit from the tomb, whereupon he expands gigantically so that his head enters heaven (GPet 10.39–40), derives from an early Christian interpretation of LXX Ps 18.5c–7. The following conversation between God and the glorified cosmic cross (GPet 10.41–2) derives from a Christocentric interpretation of LXX Ps 18.2. In addition, the cross’s verbal affirmation that it had preached to the dead (GPet 10.42) follows from a literalising yet Christocentric reading of LXX Ps 18.2b.
Mark Goodacre provides a second podcast on the second-century apocryphal Gospel, the Gospel of Peter. In an earlier podcast, Mark provided an overview of the Gospel of Peter. In this podcast, Mark discusses the most unusual aspect of the Gospel of Peter: that a walking, talking cross follows Jesus out from his tomb at his resurrection, and is heard (not seen) to answer the voice of God from heaven while walking about on earth.
As those of you who have seen Mark’s 2011 SBL International paper or who have read his blog posts might anticipate, Mark finds the narrative highly problematic. In his podcast, he sets out some of the oddities in the story which make it difficult to understand (quite apart from a cross walking around), and provides reasons to support a conjectural emendation of “cross” to “the crucified one” (i.e. Jesus).
It’s a convincing emendation, and his informative podcast includes such droll observations as this one:
I think the advantages of my reading, of my suggestion, do outweigh any of the possible negatives. Probably more important than anything else is that, in my reading, Jesus is not upstaged, at his own resurrection, by his cross.
– Mark Goodacre, “NT Pod 56: The Walking, Talking Cross in the Gospel of Peter”
For more on the issue of the walking talking cross, see:
NT Blog, “A Walking, Talking Cross or the Walking, Talking Crucified One?”, 18 October 2010
NT Blog, “SBL International Paper Proposals Accepted”, 8 February 2011
NT Blog, “The Giant Jesus and the Walking, Talking Cross”, 26 July 2011
Remnant of Giants, “Jesus was a Giant – But Let’s Be Reasonable: There was no walking, talking cross!”, 28 July 2011
For my proposed explanation why Jesus is a Giant in the Gospel of Peter, see:
Remnant of Giants, “Why Jesus was a Giant: The Messianic Interpretation of Psalm 18(19) in Gosp. Peter 10.38-42“, 14 September 2011
Gigantology has never been more popular.
According to The Biblioblog Reference Library, Remnant of Giants is the most popular “Hebrew Bible / Old Testament & Judaism” blog in the known world. When it comes to the Tanach, this, ladies and gentlemen, is as big as it gets.
Beats me what brings in the crowds. It’s probably the cutting edge gigantological topics such as why Jesus was a Giant in the Gospel of Peter’s interpretation of LXX Psalm 18(19), why the artistic portrayal of David with the head of Goliath you’re looking at probably depicts the artist with his boy lover, why Robert Gagnon writes such simplistic answers to emails on the Bible and homosexuality, why, in changing the plot of the biblical David and Goliath story for his forthcoming movie, Scott Derrickson may paradoxically be more faithful to the biblical tradition, why the story of David and Goliath could derive from a romance tale of two homosexual men disagreeing with each other, or our important discovery that the average Philistine woman and Goliath were about the same heights respectively as Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.
… or the blog’s popularity might have something to do with all those people who, according to my site stats, are searching for giantess-domination foot-fetish body-crushing macrophile porn:
Here is Paul Foster’s translation of the passage (2010), altered to take into account Mark Goodacre’s conjectural emendation of “cross” to “Crucified One”:
[10.38] Then those soldiers seeing it awoke the centurion and the elders, for they were present also keeping guard.  While they were reporting what they had seen, again they saw coming out from the tomb three men, and the two were supporting the one, and a Crucified One following them.  And the head of the two reached as far as heaven, but that of the one being led by them surpassed the heavens.  And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, “Have you preached to those who sleep?”  And a response was heard from the Crucified One, “Yes”.
Once the infamous “walking, talking cross” is removed from the text – by Mark’s quite convincing emendation – the text is still a little unusual. For the Crucified One (Jesus) and his two companions, on departing from the tomb, have become giants. And that is, on most accounts, a quite unusual feature. Jesus’ two companions are so tall that their heads touch heaven. But Jesus is even taller, an even bigger Giant. For Jesus’ head surpasses the heavens, implicitly entering into the very throne room of God, where Christ’s head is questioned by the voice of God, and makes a succinct, one-word answer to God in return. The conversation is even overheard on Earth, implicitly by the Roman centurion, guards, and Jewish elders.
From very early times, at least by the first century AD, it was a reasonably common idea that heavenly messengers, or angels, and even Jesus and Christians, had to change their bodily form in order to ascend into the heavens. In the Gospel of John (20.19, 26), the legendary resurrected Jesus walks through locked or shut doors, and in the Gospels of John (20.14) and Luke (24.16), Jesus’ own disciples do not recognise him after he has transformed into a resurrection body. In the second century Christian work, the Acts of Peter (21), different witnesses see Jesus in different forms, even at a single post-resurrection appearance: some see him as an old man, some see him as a young man, some see him as a young boy.
But while the transformation of the post-resurrection Jesus into various forms is not unusual in these early Christian legends, his transformation into a Giant who reaches all the way from Earth into the highest heaven is rather more unusual. How did the Gospel of Peter arrive at such a novel transformation … or giganticization? In the first place, we might note that the Gospel of Peter was, as far as we know, the first gospel to provide a narrative of the resurrection of Jesus. In the earlier extant Gospels, we only get stories of the aftermath of the resurrection. So, there are stories about already emptied tombs, post-resurrection appearances, zombie saints moving about in Jerusalem, etc. What this probably means is that the Gospel of Peter could not rely on any established tradition of the precise mechanics of the resurrection and had to compose his own.
I propose that the author of the Gospel of Peter utilised Old Testament scripture to fill this gap. To wit, he employed LXX Psalm 18 (MT Psalm 19) as the basis of his new resurrection narrative. The LXX translates the Hebrew כגבור (“like a hero/mighty man/man”) as ὡς γίγας (“like a Giant”).
That’s a brief outline of my argument, which I might write up more formally for publication. I haven’t read enough to work out if this has all been suggested before, and haven’t examined variants, let alone much of the secondary literature on the Gospel of Peter. But, in the meantime, I very much welcome comments, questions, and suggestions.
Mark Goodacre now has a podcast out which introduces the Gospel of Peter. Towards the end of the podcast, he addresses a unique development in this Gospel. The canonical Gospels never narrate the ascent of Jesus from the grave to heaven (or to the earth, before his ascent to heaven). They only narrate the aftermath, in which women (or women and men) find an empty tomb. Dramatically, the Gospel of Peter adds this scene:
 But in the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, when the soldiers were safeguarding it two by two in every watch, there was a loud voice in heaven;  and they saw that the heavens were opened and that two males who had much radiance had come down from there and come near the sepulcher.  But that stone which had been thrust against the door, having rolled by itself, went a distance off the side; and the sepulcher opened, and both the young men entered.  And so those soldiers, having seen, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they too were present, safeguarding).  And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from they sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them,  and the head of the two reaching unto heaven, but that of the one being led out by a hand by them going beyond the heavens.  And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, ‘Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?’  And an obeisance was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.’
– The Gospel of Peter (tr. Raymond Brown)
So, as Mark summarises:
“[In the Gospel of Peter,] we have a walking, talking cross and a giant Jesus”
– Mark Goodacre, “NT Pod 55: The Gospel of Peter”, 27 July 2011
But, for Mark’s own interpretation of the Gospel of Peter (discussed here), you will have to wait for NT Pod 56. The burning question is: Will John Dominic Crossan have to start referring to “The Crucified One Gospel”?
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.
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.”