Gospel of Peter’s Walking, Talking Cross Again: On Foster’s published response to Goodacre’s unpublished paper

I recently offered an explanation of the weird resurrection scene in the Gospel of Peter, in which Jesus expands gigantically from earth to heaven, and his cross ‘walks’ out of his tomb and talks to God (“Whence the Giant Jesus and his Talking Cross? The Resurrection in Gospel of Peter 10.39–42 as Prophetic Fulfilment of LXX Psalm 18“).

During the editing process, I made the decision to cut my original discussion of Paul Foster’s published response to Mark Goodacre’s unpublished interpretation of the resurrection scene in the Gospel of Peter — as it was not quite relevant. In ‘A Walking, Talking Cross or the Walking, Talking Crucified One? A Conjectural Emendation in the Gospel of Peter’ (Society of Biblical Literature International Meeting [Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha Section], London, July 2011), as well as in an earlier blog post, Goodacre had argued for an emendation of σταυρός (‘cross’) to σταυρωθεντα (‘crucified [one]’, i.e. Jesus). Goodacre puts forward the possibility that ‘cross’ in an earlier Greek version of the Gospel of Peter had been written with the nomen sacrum ΣΤΑ. Early Christians often abbreviated certain divine names or titles, which they might have done with ΣΤΑ, which would then have originally stood for σταυρωθέντα (‘the crucified one’). But the scribe of the main surviving copy of the Gospel of Peter (the Akhmîm Fragment) misconstrued ΣΤΑ as σταυρόν (‘cross’). And so, the existence of a walking, talking cross in the Gospel of Peter, according to Goodacre, was the result of a copyist’s error. Goodacre’s proposed conjectural emendation therefore makes the text more ‘sensible’. It means that the Gospel of Peter does not make Jesus’s cross walk and talk, but rather Jesus (as ‘the crucified one’). After all, it would be much less surprising, at least for modern readers, to have a person walking and taking, rather than a cross. So Goodacre’s proposal has some degree of plausiblity.

I have argued in ‘Whence the Giant Jesus’ that the surviving text already makes perfectly good sense as a Christocentric interpretation of LXX Psalm 18. So it was not directly relevant to engage with Goodacre’s quite different alternative — although I did make mention of it. As you might expect, I favour my own explanation, rather than Goodacre’s conjectural solution (I mean, conjectural emendation is a last resort, am I right?)

Yet while Goodacre’s suggestion is only conjectural (without any direct textual support), I do consider that it was internally logical and possible. But Paul Foster disagreed. In a published article, Foster made three main criticisms of Goodacre’s proposal (‘Do Crosses Walk and Talk? A Reconsideration of Gospel of Peter 10.39–42’, JTS 64 [2013] 97–99).

I do not consider any of Foster’s three criticisms at all fatal to Goodacre’s case. That’s what my deleted footnote had discussed, and it may be worthwhile preserving my reasons.

In his published response to Goodacre’s unpublished paper, Paul Foster objects that

(1) the proposed nomen sacrum is rare;

(2) the author would then have inconsistently translated ΣΤΑ as σταυρωθέντα in GPet 13.56; and

(3) the emendation produces a text in which Jesus is simultaneously supported by the two men and walks behind them

(Foster, ‘Do Crosses Walk and Talk?, pp.  97–99).

The first objection, while cogent, is hardly fatal. Plenty of things we see in early Christian texts are rare or unique. This might be a rare case of ΣΤΑ being used for σταυρωθέντα.

The second objection is evidentially neutral, given the Akhmîm Fragment’s tendency to employ other nomina sacra inconsistently, as Goodacre already notes. Foster’s first two objections raise the question of probability, but are far from being decisive.

The third objection misreads Goodacre’s interpretation of the resurrection scene. Goodacre’s interpretation sees the ‘two’ men or angels from heaven not as ‘supporting’ the [crucified] one, but ‘lifting up’ the one (according to Goodacre’s translation of the rare verb ὑπορθοῦντας in GPet 10.39c). Then, the crucified one subsequently follows the two out of the tomb (10.39d). Although Foster’s own interpretation is different, he needed to acknowledge that, on Goodacre’s particular interpretation, the sequence was quite coherent.

Foster goes on to argue that the scene of a mobile, talking cross is not ‘absurd’, as Goodacre stated, given the examples of cross piety in early Christianity, in which the cross is given an independent role as ‘a salvific object’ which is involved in action or gets addressed by other characters. I have some sympathy for the underlying point that this is an example of cross piety, and my own article discusses the cosmic nature of the cross piety in the Gospel of Peter. But Goodacre’s ISBL paper was really only taking its point of departure from the perceived oddness of the content of GPet 10.39-42. His argument, however, is based on text-critical considerations, in particular the Akhmîm Fragment’s late date and the large number of ‘errors, riddles, and puzzles’ it contains (p. 8). Moreover, as Foster had acknowledged in his commentary, the motif of cross piety fails to account for the innovation of a walking and talking cross, which is ‘not typical of the other forms of cross-devotion exemplified in patristic texts’ (Gospel of Peter, 418). Quite right – something more that “cross piety” is required as an explanation for the unique mobile, talking cross of the Gospel of Peter.

Foster’s counter-arguments therefore fail to convince; Goodacre’s case for textual emendation offers a plausible solution for a problematic text, albeit one which relies on recourse to conjectural emendation. I think ultimately that the debate is superseded by the solution I offered. Yet I find Goodacre’s proposal, while not likely, to be internally consistent and logically possible.


With Or Without Q: From MwQH to M+≈QH?

In 1955, Austin Farrer suggested in a relatively short article that scholars dispense with Q, the hypothetical sayings source behind the double tradition in Matthew and Luke. His alternative theory was that Luke had known Matthew, which Luke used in addition to the earliest gospel, Mark. The theory has often therefore been referred to as the Farrer Hypothesis, FH.

In 1989, the popular introductory book Studying the Synoptic Gospels by Ed P. Sanders and Margaret Davies referred to the Farrer Hypothesis as “Mark without Q” (p. 93), that is, a theory which affirms the priority of Mark without positing the existence of Q. In April 1999, Mark Goodacre adopted the phrase “Mark Without Q” as the name for his website about Q (started two years before, in 1997, with the more grandiose title “World Without Q”).

The title to Mark Goodacre's "Mark Without Q" website, ca. April 1999.
The title to Mark Goodacre’s “Mark Without Q” website, April 1999.

In a 2003 review article of Mark Goodacre’s The Case Against Q (2002), John Kloppenborg came to the decision that the “more apt name” for the Farrer Hypothesis is the “Mark-without-Q hypothesis” (NTS 49.2, p. 213). Kloppenborg further notes that this expression comprised the “original name of Goodacre’s web site” (which is not quite correct: the original name was “World Without Q”). But Kloppenborg’s own lasting contribution to this nomenclatural epic was the siglum “MwQH” — adopted since in numerous Synoptic studies. If Kloppenborg had been as internet savvy as Goodacre, we probably would have had “w/0” instead of “w”. Yet this was the early noughties after all, and Kloppenborg, as far as we know, had never used an emoticon let alone written LOL.

An interesting twist in the rollercoaster ride which is the MwQH has occurred with the publication of Francis Watson’s Gospel Writing (2013).  Watson provides a vigorous defence of Luke’s creative use of Matthew (L/M) and therefore of Q’s seeming redundancy. Yet Watson also argues that the Gospel of Thomas, in particular, provides evidence of a not dissimilar “Sayings Collection” (SC) behind the double tradition in Matthew. Although Luke did not use the Sayings Collection as Matthew did, relying instead on Matthew itself, Watson concludes that Luke also had access to this Sayings Collection.

But this Sayings Collection – underlying Matthew and perhaps parts of Luke –  is not at all dissimilar to Q itself. So the MwQH camp has now provided a defence of something fairly Q-like in Matthew and Luke. The siglum for this Q-like source should be, I suppose, “≈Q” (“almost equals Q”).

And so I ask: should we now refer to the Theory-Formerly-Known-As-The-Farrer-Hypothesis as MwQH or as M+≈QH?

Narrative Sequence in Q? Or from Mark?


In a couple or so works, Mark Goodacre has argued that the first third of Q has a narrative sequence. [He bases this on the delineation of Q in the International Q Project’s Critical Edition.] His assessment brings into question, therefore, those who would categorize Q as a “sayings source” or “Sayings Gospel”. In The Synoptic Problem (pp. 151-52) he sets out this sequence, making further comments on it in chapter 9 of The Case Against Q. The alleged sequence in Q is as follows:

(a) John the Baptist appears in the region of the Jordan (Mt.
3.6//Lk. 3.3).
(b) John baptizes people with ‘his baptism’ (Mt. 3.7//Lk. 3.7), a
baptism apparently connected with ‘repentance’ (Mt. 3.8//Lk.
(c) John preaches about a ‘coming one’ (Mt. 3.11//Lk. 3.16).
(d) Jesus appears on the scene and there is a baptism involving
the ‘spirit’ in which Jesus is recognized as a ‘son’ (Mt. 3.13-
17//Lk. 3.21-22).
(e) Jesus is led into the wilderness by ‘the spirit’ to be tested as
‘son’ (Mt. 4.1-1 1//Lk. 4.1-13).
(f) Jesus appears in a place called ‘Nazara’ (Mt. 4.13//Lk. 4.16).
(g) Jesus preaches a great Sermon (Mt. 5-7//Lk. 6.20-49).
(h) Jesus finishes his Sermon and goes to Capernaum where a
Centurion’s Boy is healed (Mt. 7.28-29; 8.5//Lk. 7.1).
(i) Messengers come from John the Baptist, asking whether Jesus
is indeed ‘the coming one’ (Mt. 11.2-19//Lk. 7.18-35).

[In this, Goodacre is followed by Francis Watson, who in Gospel Writing (p. 249), distinguishes Q from the Gospel of Thomas on certain grounds, the first of which is that “unlike Thomas, Q contains extensive narrative material (the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism and temptations, the centurion’s servant).”]

But are these really narrative sequences found in Q? Or is it the result of Matthew (then Luke) placing Q material into what is essentially Mark’s narrative sequence? I argue it’s the latter [contrary to the Critical Edition of Q, on which Goodacre bases his narrative sequence]. (In what follows, I leave the larger questions of Q’s existence or Luke’s use of Matthew largely to the side – just so Q skeptics, like Goodacre himself, shouldn’t feel left out!)

Matthew 3:1–4.22, in which the first five elements of Goodacre’s narrative sequence occur, closely follows the sequence in Mark 1:1-21. The parallel material in this passage consists of the introduction of John the Baptist (Mark 1:1-8//Matt 3:1-5, 11); John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11//Matt 1:13, 16-17); Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert (Mark 1:12-13//Matt 4:1-2, 11); Jesus’ arrival in Galilee (Mark 1:14a//Matt 4:12); Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom of God has come near (Mark 1:14b-15//Matt 4:17); and Jesus’ calling of Simon, Andrew, James, and John as followers (Mark 1:16-20//Matt 4:18-22). Matthew expands this with other material, including double tradition (Matt 7b-10, 12; 4:3-10) and material unique to Matthew (Matt 3:7a, 14-15).

The Markan sequence clearly provides the basis for the sequence in Matthew. Moreover, the triple tradition follows the sequence from John the Baptist’s baptism of many people in the Jordan (Mark 1:5//Matt 3:5-6//Luke 3:7), to John’s prediction of the coming of one more powerful than he (Mark 3:7; Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16), to Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:10-11//Matt 3:16-17//Luke 3:21-22), and finally to Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert (Mark 1:12-13//Matt 4:1-2, 11//Luke 4:1-2). The Q material which refers to John the Baptist and the temptation in the desert need not have itself included any chronological markers. Only when combined with Mark’s sequence did it receive its own sequence. Goodacre’s narrative sequence (a)-(e) is supported by Mark, but not by Q.

What is more, Matthew continues to rely upon Mark’s narrative sequence right up until chapter 8, and this accounts for most of the remainder of Goodacre’s narrative sequence. Matthew’s continued adherence to Mark’s narrative sequence is obscured by the insertion of the large sermon in Matt 5:1–7:27. But we should not let that distract us from the continued dependence on Mark’s narrative sequence.

We had examined the sequence up until Jesus’ calling of his first followers (Mark 1:16-20//Matt 4:18-22). From there, Matthew employs Mark’s statement that Jesus came to Capernaum (Mark 1:21) as his introduction to the healing of the Centurion’s boy in Matt 8:5a. Immediately before the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew had made a more general geographical description of Jesus’ teaching and healing in Galilee (Matt 4:23-25)–which he had also taken from the first chapter of Mark (1:28, 35-39). Then, shortly after the completion of the Sermon, Matthew follows Mark 1:21 in having Jesus enter Capernaum. Matthew employs the following verse in Mark (Mark 1:22) immediately after the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7:28-29), describing the crowds as astounded at Jesus’ teaching. The episode of the healing of the centurion’s boy is itself double tradition, so does not appear in Mark. But Mark has furnished the geographical introduction to the healing of the centurion’s boy as Capernaum (Mark 1:22) in close connection to the the crowd reaction which Matthew places at the end of his Sermon (Mark 1:22). Mark’s sequence has therefore provided the material for Matthew’s narrative sequence, even though Matthew has altered the sequence. In addition, Mark 1:23-24 refers to Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth”, a reference picked up in Matt 4:13a.

Thus while Matthew does not follow Mark’s sequence in Matt 4:23–8:5 as closely as he does in Matt 3:1–4:22, there is a good basis for attributing the later sequence not to Q but to Mark. Mark’s narrative sequence furnishes Matthew with Jesus’ departure from “Nazara” (Mark 1:23-24//Matt 4:13a//Luke 4:16a), the crowd reaction to Jesus’ sermon (Mark 1:22//Matt 7:28-29//Luke 4:32), and the entry into Capernaum to heal the Centurion’s boy following the Sermon (Mark 1:21//Matt 8:5a//Luke 7:1). Matthew certainly departs from strict adherence to Mark’s narrative sequence, with insertion of the lengthy Sermon and relocation of the account of the healing of the leper (Mark 1:40-44//Matt 8:1-4), but he also–in creating that sequence–relies on Mark’s own narrative sequence. Mark furnishes Matthew’s narrative sequence in 4:23–8:5, not Q. Goodacre’s narrative sequence (f)-(h) is supported by Mark, not Q. And that only leaves (i), which is no longer part of a narrative sequence without (a)-(h).

In conclusion, while Matthew differs from Mark’s narrative sequence in Matt 3:1–8:5, inserting material attributed to Q and other material, it has been argued that Matthew relies on Mark’s sequence in order to construct his own. By comparison with the chronological and geographical markers in Mark 1, we see that the narrative sequence in Matthew 3-8 is – far from a “radically restructured Mark” – based essentially on Mark 1. If we accept the existence of Q, there are insufficient grounds to treat it as possessing any sustained narrative progression. In this respect, Q is much like that extant sayings gospel, The Gospel of Thomas.



SBL on Monday, or Eurocentric Biblical Studies

San Francisco

Monday highlights at the 2011 Society of Biblical Literature conference:

1. The African-American Biblical Hermeneutics section was the absolute stand-out section of the day. Discussing a small handful of rabbinic texts that are prejudicial in some way towards blacks (texts for which we no longer have the context to pinpoint), the section included a wide-ranging and highly informed discussion of racism and racialism within Eurocentric Biblical Studies. Brilliant.

2. W. David Nelson (African-American Biblical Hermeneutics section) opined that the only sensible way forward in (Eurocentric) Biblical Studies is reception history – practised not in the usual textual-philological manner, but with a sociological-historical basis as well. Now that is exactly right.

3. The condescending tones of JoAnn Scurlock at the review of Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s Land of Our Fathers, who began her reply to Dr Stavrakopoulou by pointing out that one should do sufficient research before writing books and that she was a Professor.

4. An invigorating and wide-ranging discussion with Dr Stavrakopoulou later in the evening, much later in fact, including a largely negative assessment of those who would provide detailed historical research as a way of understanding Homer, or Grimm’s Fairy Tales, or that Jewish collection of books (you know the one, begins with this scene in which the world is created out of Tofu or something). Reminds me of this commentary by Jeffrey Tigay back in ’96, where he defends the historicity of the Giants of Palestine by making reference to some tall folk somewhere in central Africa, an ancient letter (which he omits to mention is a burlesque satire), and two skeletons in Jordan. But that’s another story.

5. Met James McGrath in the Eerdmans book exhibit. Really. Eerdmans.

6. Met Steve Wiggins in the Routledge book exhibit.

7. Met Mark Goodacre, talking to somebody who had his back turned towards me. Turned out to be Francis Watson. I scooted off fairly quickly. So nice to put faces to names after all this time, though.

8. The Sheffield reception. Ran into Jorunn Buckley again, who recited an interesting tale of a road-trip she did back in ’73 from Turkey to the Mandaeans in Iran. The point of the story was that supervisors will steal your stuff and pretend it’s their own, especially if they are Dutch Gnostic scholars.

9. Saw Emma England’s paper on Norman Habel’s children’s book, a book which is up there with that commentary on Job he wrote, but adds purple flood waters.

10. Met Bono in a pub.

Mark Goodacre’s Podcast on the Walking Talking Cross of the Gospel of Peter: Or, When is a Walking Talking Cross not a Walking Talking Cross?

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

Why Jesus was a Giant: The Messianic Interpretation of Psalm 18(19) in Gosp. Peter 10.38-42

The Weekly World News: Following a fine tradition of Giant Jesuses which may have begun with the Gospel of Peter
The Weekly World News: Following a fine tradition of Giant Jesuses which may have begun with the Gospel of Peter

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. [39] 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. [40] And the head of the two reached as far as heaven, but that of the one being led by them surpassed the heavens. [41] And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, “Have you preached to those who sleep?” [42] 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 on the Gospel of Peter, Walking and Talking Crosses, and Giant Jesuses

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:

[35] 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; [36] 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. [37] 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. [38] And so those soldiers, having seen, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they too were present, safeguarding). [39] 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, [40] 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. [41] And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, ‘Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?’ [42] 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”?