Monday, October 18, 2010

A Walking, Talking Cross or the Walking, Talking Crucified One?

One of the pleasures of blogging is that it gives you the chance to float ideas that may be worthwhile or that may come to nothing. This is one of those occasions. This is an idea that occurred to me last week while preparing for my Non-canonical Gospels course here at Duke.  It's week seven and we are looking at the Gospel of Peter.  There may be nothing in this idea, which I shared with my class today, but I want to go through the discipline of writing it up so that I can get a feeling for its merits.  Comments are gratefully received, but I ask that you bear in mind that this is just a thought, a sketch, an attempt to see if something works.

One of the great mysteries of the Gospel of Peter is what on earth could have inspired the following remarkable passage:
9. 34. Early in the morning, when the Sabbath dawned, there came a crowd from Jerusalem and the country round about to see the sealed sepulchre. 35. Now in the night in which the Lord's day dawned, when the soldiers were keeping guard, two by two in each watch, there was a loud voice in heaven, (36) and they saw the heavens open and two men come down from there in a great brightness and draw near to the sepulchre. 37. That stone which had been laid against the entrance to the sepulchre started of itself to roll and move sidewards, and the sepulchre was opened and both young men entered. 10. 38. When those soldiers saw this, they awakened the centurion and the elders, for they also were there to mount guard. 39. And while they were narrating what they had seen, they saw three men come out from the sepulchre, two of them supporting the other and a cross following them (40) and the heads of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was being led reached beyond the heavens. 41. And they heard a voice out of the heavens crying, ‘Have you preached to those who sleep?’, 42. and from the cross there was heard the answer, ‘Yes.’
The idea of a walking, talking cross is almost unbelievably absurd, all the more so given the lack of precedent for it in the text, in which the cross was earlier completely inanimate, and did not enter the tomb with Jesus at burial.  One of the difficulties with the Gospel of Peter is that the only major textual witness (P.Cair. 10759) is late (eighth century), unreliable and riddled with errors, including many in this passage.  And so I have begun to wonder whether there might have been another error in the scribe's transcription of his text here.  My suggestion is that we conjecturally emend the text from σταυρον to σταυρωθεντα, from "cross" to "crucified", so that it is no longer a wooden cross that comes bouncing out of the tomb but rather Jesus, the "crucified one" himself.

This might at first sound like a bit of a stretch.  But what if our scribe's exemplar here used the nomen sacrum στα?  It is worth bearing in mind that another second century Greek Passion Gospel, the Dura-Europos Gospel Harmony fragment (0212), uses the nomen sacrum στα for σταυρωθέντα in a similar context (the burial). Perhaps our scribe's exemplar had the nomen sacrum στα and the scribe incorrectly assumed that it stood for σταυρόν. It would be an easy mistake to make, and it is quite reasonable to assume that the scribe's source text might so abbreviate.   Other texts (Codex Bezae, P46) similarly abbreviate the verb.

If my suggested conjectural emendation has any merit, this is how the text would appear:
καὶ ἐξηγουμένων αὐτῶν ἃ εἶδον, πάλιν ὁρῶσιν ἐξελθόντας ἀπὸ τοῦ τάφου τρεῖς ἄνδρας, καὶ τοὺς δύο τὸν ἕνα ὑπορθοῦντας, καὶ τὸν σταυρωθέντα ἀκολουθοῦντα αὐτοῖς· καὶ τῶν μὲν δύο τὴν κεφαλὴν χωροῦσαν μέχρι τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, τοῦ δὲ χειραγωγουμένου ὑπ' αὐτῶν ὑπερβαίνουσαν τοὺς οὐρανούς· καὶ φωνῆς ἤκουον ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν λεγούσης᾽Εκήρυξας τοῖς κοιμωμένοις; καὶ ὑπακοὴ ἠκούετο ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυρωθέντος ὅτι Ναί.
At this point, the sharp reader will no doubt want to point out that the emendation cannot work because Jesus has to be one of the "three men" coming out of the tomb, "the two supporting the one", so that the cross is an additional figure, not identified with "the one".  This reading depends, though, on the translation of ὑπορθοῦντας as "supporting", as if the two angelic figures are holding Jesus up. But ὑπορθόω, a rare word, probably means something like "raise up", "lift up"; the text is saying that the two men, who have descended from heaven and entered the tomb, are lifting Jesus up from where he was lying, and they are leading him out, the crucified one following them. This scenario is clarified in the next line, where the men are leading him by the hand. Thus the English translation would go something like this:
And while they were narrating what they had seen, they saw three men come out from the sepulchre, two of them raising up the one, and the crucified one following them (40) and the heads of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was being led out by the hand by them reaching beyond the heavens. 41. And they heard a voice out of the heavens crying, ‘Have you preached to those who sleep?’, 42. and from the crucified one there was heard the answer, ‘Yes.’
There are certain additional advantages that this reading could bring.  For one thing, it has never made much sense 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'".  Rather, they only hear the answer because it is the crucified one speaking, and his head is beyond the heavens.  And finally, the allusion to the "harrowing of hell"  here makes far greater sense if it is the crucified Jesus who has done the preaching, as in 1 Peter 3.19-20, and not some kind of cartoon cross.


Ian said...

Funny I hadn't thought of the cross as a bouncing cartoon cross, but as a metaphor for the crucified one. So this makes perfect sense to me that it could have been concrete rather than metaphoric.

The conversation exchange doesn't make much sense if you do separate the 'cross' from the figure being led out.

Sean Winter said...

This looks neat, but aren't there some grammatical peculiarities here.

1. what is the antecedent to τοῦ δὲ χειραγωγουμένου. It can't be τὴν κεφαλὴν because the case is wrong isn't it?

2. why is ὑπερβαίνουσαν plural?

Im not sure these aspects make sense on either reading. The nomina sacra explanation is very appealing though.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Ian.

Good questions, Sean. I think τοῦ χειραγωγουμένου is like τῶν δύο -- it's making clear whose heads are being described. First the head(s) of the two (τῶν δύο), then the head of the one being led by the hand (τοῦ χειραγωγουμένου). I don't think ὑπερβαίνουσαν is plural; it's feminine singular accusative, agreeing with τὴν κεφαλὴν.

Jason A. Staples said...

I like it, Mark. Was thinking about this passage just the other day.

I think the repetition of καὶ before τοὺς δύο and τὸν στα helps your case here, as it suggests that each clause should be seen as appositional. That is, the two καὶ clauses are simply descriptions of τρεῖς ἄνδρας.

If there were no καὶ before τοὺς δύο, one could argue that clause served as the sole apposition while the other (with its καὶ) told of another figure. But given the prior καὶ, the grammar is pretty clear: each phrase tells of a component of the τρεῖς ἄνδρας mentioned prior.

So, grammatically, I'd suggest that the cross must either be one of the "three men" or your suggestion is correct.

Wieland Willker said...

I have a link to an image of this mysterious passage here:
Gospel of Peter Greek
(scroll down a bit)

We had a discussion a while ago on this on BGreek: BGreek 2004

Sean Winter said...

Those dratted sigma/alpha endings! The more I look at thus the more I like it and it has the added advantage of making Crossan's book title redundant!

Matt Page said...

The bouncing cross sounds like something from a bad 70s evangelistic cartoon.

Someone should make one.

Peter M. Head said...

Mark - I think you are improving the text rather than restoring it!
a) speculative personification of the cross is not absent in other relevant sources (e.g. Apoc Peter [Eth] 1; Epist. Apost. 16; Apoc. Elijah 3.2; Gos Nic. 26; Acts of John 98f; Gos. Phil. 84.33; Acts Pionius 13)
b) you require a rather complex set of changes (including an extra article in #39 and two different restorations of a mistaken NS)
c) most normal NS use STR and then some part of the ending - often a fair bit of the ending. You are conjecturing an unusual nomen sacrum interpreted mistakenly in an unusual way.
d) worth a try, and doubtless a far better reading, but really what you are doing is christological redaction!
Cheers Pete

Steve said...

Interesting discussion! In an update to a post I wrote following on Dr. Goodacre's idea, I have made mention of Pete's misgivings. Essentially, I am not sure the personification of the cross in those other writings are alone enough to topple this current proposal.

Mark Goodacre said...

Jason: that's a great observation; thanks.
Wieland: many thanks for those links; it's particularly helpful to have the pic. and the magnified element there.
Sean: thanks. If I remember rightly, Crossan, when pressed on the issue, suggested that the walking, talking cross is actually a group of people walking out of the tomb in a cross formation, which seems especially weak in the light of ᾽Εκήρυξας.
Matt: great idea!
Steve: thanks for your post, and for your comment here. Agreed.

Mark Goodacre said...

Pete: thanks for your enjoyable comments. Might have known that it wouldn't appeal to you! To an extent, every conjectural emendation is an attempt at "improving the text"; a conjecture that made it more problematic would hardly be appealing. Your points in turn:
(a) Good points, but none of the parallels comes close to the kind of walking, talking cross we have here. These texts at best help to explain how the scribe could have misconstrued STA in his text.
(b) On the contrary, the emendations are very simple -- simply reading TON STA as σταυρον and STA as σταυρου.
(c) My proposal, remember, is that the nomen sacrum in the source text was STA, standing for σταυρωθεντα, which is found in the Dura-Europos Gospel Harmony Fragment, the only time that I am aware of STA / σταυρωθεντα.
(d) I'll take that as a compliment :)
Thanks again for your helpful comments, Pete.

Richard said...

This is very interesting. Thanks for this post Mark!

Hans said...

I think this has legs, although I think you still have to explain why we'd have the same nomen sacrum (STA) in the two instances, unless the final alpha is supposed to belong to the first three characters of the word and not capture the inflected form at all. (Your post seems to suggest that you were interested in STA as an abbreviation for the accusative aorist participle, which only gets you the first of the two, right?) While there are some nomina sacra that only use initial characters, they occur much less frequently. If the participles are perfect rather than aorist, you could get around the somewhat sticky issue of the endings (which I think is a fair critique above), since you would then have agreement between the endings of what was abbreviated and the endings of what was supplied. The two problems here, of course, being the use later on of the aorist participle in the text we have and the necessity of dropping the initial epsilons at some point in transmission. Although reading something like ESTRON/ESTROU as STAURON/STAUROU seems to me to be at least as elegant as a misreading.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Hans. I like the idea of the piece having "legs". I think you are quite right to draw attention to the issue over the second occurrence of STAUROS (STAUROU). I had been assuming that the exemplar could have had STA again, as a suspension rather than a contraction, but perhaps it would have had STS, and this latter makes reading it erroneously as STAUROU less likely. So I see the problem you are raising. However, part of the difficulty here is that our only precise analogy for the nomen sacrum STA is in the Dura Europa Gospel Harmony fragment, where it is presumably representing STAURWQENTA, which could be either the suspension or the contraction. Thanks again for the useful points, well made.

Rich Griese said...

“The idea of a walking, talking cross is almost unbelievably absurd”

ALMOST? This is a dangerous statement. It implies that the idea of a walking/talking cross is not COMPLETELY absurd. My guess is that it might have been said in an attempt NOT to offend some supernaturalists. But it shows to what extent even good name scholars are not really able to speak honestly. Not to be able to even say that the idea of a walking and talking cross is absurd, but to have to hedge it with a “almost”, certainly is a bad sign for scholars to be able to speak of more subtle things.


abernhar said...

Thought-provoking post on a truly bizarre passage, Mark. I like the concept of a confused scribe trying to make sense of a difficult passage: it does have enough peculiar grammar, vocabulary, and content to give one a serious headache . . . and enough to cause the scribe to lapse into near incoherence at the end.

The modern scholar has to wrestle with the fact that in the last line of the passage, where the cross actually speaks (line 16 on page 7 of P.Cair. 10759), the word “upakoh” looks more like “uuuakoh” (at best) and the “tinai” (which must be emended to “oti nai” or “to nai” to give us the sort of coherent translation, “Yes”) looks painfully more like “tau-PSI-nu-alpha-iota” (which means even less than the already presumably corrupt text).

I guess that’s my roundabout way of saying, I’m hesitant about your proposed solution. I’m too baffled by what the lone copy we actually have reads to go further much further with proposed restorations. It would be asking an awful lot to get me to adopt emendations based on the proposal that a scribe twice misunderstood an unusual nomina sacrum found on both a second century manuscript (that you’re especially familiar with) and the hypothetical exemplar for a sixth (or eighth, depending on who you ask) century manuscript.

Sure, it’s possible. And sure all restorations involve some degree of conjecture. But this still seems like a big stretch. You would have to put forth some mighty weighty grammatical arguments to convince me on this one (and heck, I’d like to be convinced).

That said, I still must confess it is quite an ingenious proposal . . .

abernhar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Bernhard said...

p.s. (abernhar) is Andrew Bernhard

Wieland Willker said...

I find it improbable that the scribe would expand an existing NS. He is using all the common NS in the text for kurios, huios, theos, anthrwpos etc. correctly. Why should he resolve a NS for STAUROS? This is improbability 1. The second improbability is that he does it wrongly, twice.
The third improbability is that STAURWQENTA appears later in the text and the scribe is giving it correctly, as he does several other "STAUR*" words in the text.
So, even though your suggestion looks elegant and creates a smooth text, I cannot accept it.

Nevertheless the text is still unclear at this position. If you will look at the image the text reads: APO TOU STAUROU TI NAI.

Andrew Bernhard said...

You raise some good points, Wieland.

I am curious, though about your seeming insistance that the text reads: APO TOU STAUROU TI NAI. In particular the iota in TI. I have looked at your image - as well as carefully studying all the other published images of the passage - and quite simply, there are ink marks that can't be properly attributed to the preceding tau, the "iota" or the following nu. What appears looks very much like the crossbar of a psi to me.

It's possible that the iota has been written over something else originally written by mistake (this happens elsewhere in the manuscript). But as the character stands, it looks more like a psi than an iota to me. Of course, this would render the text even more incoherent.

Surely, we can agree that there is at least some ambiguity about what letter is written there?

I'd be curious what other think, as this is a matter that has bothered me for a long time.

Wieland Willker said...

Hello Andrew, yes, you are completely right. It is a little strange. But so far no convincing suggestion has been made, what this could be.
The writing style of the scribe is very irregular.

All suggestions are welcome!

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for the additional comments. I agree with your perplexity, Wieland and Andrew, about what on earth those five or so letters are after ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ. I agree, Andrew, that that letter looks like a Psi, which makes it complete nonsense. But so much of the Akhmim fragment is this kind of nonsense and we have to keep making conjectural emendations in order to make sense of the text. Look at χειρατωτουμενου three lines up. What is that supposed to be? χειραγωγουμένου is a good emendation, but it is still an emendation.

Your point about other nomina sacra in the text does not say anything about the improbability of my proposal, Wieland. Yes, our scribe uses nomina sacra for κύριος etc., but his use is uneven. In spite of the regular use of KN, KU and KS, he can still write τοῦ κυρίου at 3.8 and τὸν κύριον at 6.24. In spite of the use of ΘΥ, he can also write θεοῦ at 11.46 and 11.48. Our text's use of τὸν σταυρωθέντα in 13.56 provides, if anything, an argument in favour of my suggestion -- it shows that the word is one that is in the author's vocabulary, a significant point given its absence from the Gospels.

Moreover, our text has a good example of an anarthrous nomen sacrum in 14.60 (KS).

In a text so full of errors, so unpredictable in its execution of nomina sacra, an elegant conjectural emendation of the kind I am suggesting does not seem to be at all improbable to me, especially one that removes an obvious absurdity.

Mark Goodacre said...

Oh, one more thing. Wieland: are you sure he uses a nomen sacrum for υἱός? I can see the word in 3.6, 3.9, 11.45 and 11.46 but can't see the nomen sacrum, but I should say that I am new to this text so I may be missing it.

Wieland Willker said...

Yes, right, there is no NS for huios.

"especially one that removes an obvious absurdity."
Those smoothings are always suspect to a textual critic. You can smooth out any difficulty in any text using this method. For me the evidence is not strong enough to emend the text the way you did.

Btw. I find the Nu rather strange and am not sure if it is a Nu. Look how the scribe elsewhere is writing it.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Wieland. But you agree that the "improbabilities" you list turn out not to be improbable on closer inspection?

You speak of textual critics finding "smoothings" suspect, but in fact this passage, indeed the entire text, is full of them.

Wieland Willker said...

I still maintain the improbabilities I noted above.
Your scenario is improbable. Possible, but improbable.
It is more improbable than not that a scribe is expanding a NS.
It is more improbable than not that he is doing it wrongly.
Especially when he has the word correctly in 13.56.
This does not mean that the text as it stands is what the author wrote.
Even if your suggestion is quite improbable, it still may be basically correct, in some way.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Wieland. So let's review those points:

It is more improbable than not that a scribe is expanding a NS.
And yet each example of a NS that you give also has an expanded version.

It is more improbable than not that he is doing it wrongly.
But he makes multiple errors in the text, including several that produce incomprehensible words, including a couple in this very context.

Especially when he has the word correctly in 13.56.
Which demonstrates that the word is in the author's vocabulary, making its presence in the passage under discussion the more probable.

Thanks again, Wieland, for engaging with my suggestion.

Andrew Bernhard said...

For clarification, Mark, may I ask: does your proposal require that the scribe's exemplar contained a suspension of the participle?

I mean, you're already conjecturing a misunderstanding of a rare NS. If you're conjecturing a suspension NS, that's even more rare: the single instance you've referenced is the only one to have survived antiquity . . . at least, per Paap in 1959.

Mark Goodacre said...

Hi Andrew. My guess is that the scribe's exemplar had ΣΤΑ for σταυρωθέντα, which our scribe expands to σταυρόν. It then has ΣΤΑ again, for σταυρωθέντος, which our scribe expands to σταυροῦ. The difficulty with ΣΤΑ in the first case, as also in the Dura Europos Gospel Harmony Fragment, is that it could conceivably be either a suspension or a contraction. In the second case it would have to be a suspension. The rarity of the form actually makes my point -- that's the kind of thing that causes so incompetent a scribe to make that kind of blunder. Given the other bizarre forms in this very passage, like χειρατωτουμενου, it is very straightforward to imagine him making the kind of adjustment I am talking about. Frankly, I think he'd be capable of doing it without a nomen sacrum there, but its candidacy as a nomen sacrum makes the case for conjectural emendation all the stronger.

Andrew Bernhard said...

Hmmm . . . I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on the nomina sacra point. The NS is _so_ rare that I highly doubt any exemplar for a 6th (or 8th) manuscript could have had it.

Regardless, I must add that I think your negative opinion of our scribe may be a bit exaggerated. Surely, he was no professional and he was admittedly careless. But all in all, there are only two places in nine full pages of text where anything other very minor emendations are required (5:18 and 10:42).


Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Andrew. I think the rarity of the NS is a simple correlate of the rarity of the word (σταυρωθέντα), and yet we know that that word is in the author's vocabulary because of its appearance in 13.56. I agree that I have exaggerated the scribe's incompetence, but it's with a view to reminding commenters that we are making emendations on line after line, and that a further conjectural emendation is hardly a stretch.

Wieland Willker said...

Since there is nothing new under the (theological) sun, I have found that already in 1893 Mark's idea was published. Check:
Adolf Harnack "Bruchstücke des Evangeliums und der Apokalypse des Petrus", 2nd edition, Leipzig 1893, p. 84.
Harnack writes that the suggestion was made to him in private communication by a certain H.H. Duhm.

Wieland Willker said...

Oops, it is page 70 in the printed text, but 84 in the PDF:

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Wieland. Only fleeting but yes, my idea is definitely there in nuce!

earlychristianscholar said...

Thanks, Mark, for this ingenious proposal. As someone who recently finished a dissertation on the Gospel of Peter, I'm intrigued by your thoughts. I wish I had read your post when you first made it, when many others were sharing their reactions to it.

One thing that seems to go against your theory, as others have also stated in so many words, is the fact that your proposed original in vv. 39 & 42 is σταυρωθέντα, and this same word appears later in v. 56. As you state, this indicates that the Akhmim scribe indeed had this word in his vocabulary. If that's the case, though, then why does he not correctly recognize the (alleged) NS in his exemplar, but instead creates an "almost unbelievably absurd" scene with a talking cross?

It seems that your argument would be stronger if σταυρωθέντα were not later present in v. 56, for this would mean that he may not have been familiar with the term.

If, as you proposed, there were NS in the exemplar at 39 & 42, then would there not also likely have been one later in 56? It's not clear to me, then, why the Akhmim scribe does not recognize it correctly at 39 & 42.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for your comments, earlychristianscholar. I look forward to hearing more about your dissertation in due course.

13.56 shows that the word σταυρωθέντα is in the author's vocabulary. Unevenness in the scribe's expansion or not of nomina sacra is found throughout the text, to wit:

In spite of the regular use of KN, KU and KS, he can still write τοῦ κυρίου at 3.8 and τὸν κύριον at 6.24. In spite of the use of ΘΥ, he can also write θεοῦ at 11.46 and 11.48.

I think that our text's use of τὸν σταυρωθέντα in 13.56 provides, if anything, an argument in favour of my suggestion -- it shows that the word is one that is in the author's vocabulary, a significant point given its absence from the Gospels.

Bob X said...

Mark, in "almost unbelievably absurd" I read the "almost" not as modifying "absurd" (the walking talking cross is certainly absurd) but as modifying "unbelievably" (many things which are absurd are, nonetheless, believed by some people, and the scribe who wrote the text as we have it apparently was one of them).

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Bob. Good analysis of my statement. Shows that even our own materials require some exegesis.

the_cave said...

I'm sorry I missed this post--

I thought that Crossan had already (correctly) determined that the "cross" was the collection of Jewish martyrs rescued from Sheol, emerging in cruciform formation?

The question to the martyrs is, have they preached to those in Sheol? They answer in the affirmative.

If Crossan hasn't said as much, then I say as much now :)

I'm sorry, I thought this was long-established.

Wieland Willker said...

A new book is out on the Gospel of Peter by Paul Foster (Brill, 2010).
Unfortunately he is not discussing this suggestion. He admits that it is the most significant textual problem, but he seems to be unaware of Harnack's suggestion. Your blog entry probably came too late for the publication. He accepts the ordinary OTI NAI solution.

mikew1584 said...

I had gotten the impression that we shouldn't take this story as a narration of events, such as Jesus the daughter of Jarius, but as a vision, such as the one Ezekiel had of the throne of God. I am reminded of some of Marian group apparitions, such as Fatima when the sun danced.

The scene is hard to envision logically as real world events. The two men can enter Jesus tomb but walk our as tall as the sun and moon. King Kong is that big. It sound great symbolical however.

I think the intended audience would have realized this as well and not imagine that this was the scene at Jesus tomb, 2 mountains sized angels bring a sky sized Jesus out of his tomb followed by floating cross that was presumably interned with him.

As docetics i would think that they would not have felt the need to be genuine to a historic account. Jesus message to them was that the material, thus historical world was inferior to the reality produced in the mind. Jesus was expected then to die detached, like one of those images of the Buddhist monk in flames. The physical circumstance of his death and resurrection them are not central to Jesus message. Thus Thomas has no death and resurrection.

Steve Gilchrist said...

Does the historical critical principle of "the more difficult reading" still apply? Is so, what might it suggest? Thank you for your blogging.