Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Giant Jesus and the Walking, Talking Cross

Over on Remnant of Giants, Deane Galbraith (Tyrone Slothrop) comments on Bart Ehrman's Huffington Post column in Jesus was a Giant! … or was he, really? Bart Ehrman in the Huffington Post on the most famous passage in 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
The quotation actually illustrates splendidly one of the reasons that I offered in my recent conference paper for suggesting that a conjectural emendation is required here.  The paper was called "A Walking, Talking Cross or the Walking, Talking Crucified One? A conjectural emendation in the Gospel of Peter 10.39, 42" (Abstract). The paper was based on a blog post from last year and in due course, I will be expanding the paper for publication.

What the quotation above illustrates nicely is the narrative oddity of the giant Jesus, who is stretched beyond the heavens, from where God addresses not the crucified one but the cross, which has apparently come out of the tomb and remained on earth, something that makes no narrative sense at all, even within the bizarre logic of the Gospel of Peter.  Here's a brief section from my paper:
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.


Bob MacDonald said...

Hi Mark - re stretching, you will remember the metaphor incline your ear common in the Psalm translations of yesteryear (to rhyme with ear). The verb is also used in the Psalms to mean 'stretch' specifically in the stretching of heaven e.g. 18.10
and he stretches heavens and descends
with dark turbulence under his feet (part of the theophany in 18)
and 144.5 יְהוָה stretch out your heavens and come down
Touch hills and they will smoke

If such images had made it into the NT then we might have had some more stimulus to inventive interpretation. But - there's the issue - you can't read everything ever written and the canon-formers even if they had mixed motives established something we have enough trouble with.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for your interesting comments, Bob.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to eventually reading the published version of your work on this. You almost have me convinced with what you've said thus far.

JoeWallack said...

You do not appear to have anything other than "An Argument from Incredulity" here. However, having an animated cross here is not a Tiger Stauros type putt. It is a much shorter one. It is not just a point or just a primary point but the dominant point of the narrative here of dead stuff coming back to life. Similarly, the cross is not just a symbol here or just the most important symbol, it is THE symbol. What would be out of place is if the offending part had no connection to the setting (like, I don't know, say the word in question was "Hippopotamus"). In the larger picture GoP parallels best to "Matthew" and is pre-Canon so it should not be surprising that the author was compelled to interpret how Jesus had left the building and discharged his responsibilities.

You are starting out with no External support and the difficult reading principle going against you. To mount a serious counter-offensive, your proposal needs SCOPE. But here the scope supports the text:

1 Jesus being supported implies he is incapable of speech.

2 The conjunction shows that what follows is different from what precedes.

3 What follows is animate.

4 Jesus is beyond the heavens, and it is the soldiers who are witnessing this, so the implication is that the voice is directed to the ground.

5 Brown demonstrates in "The Death of the Messiah" that GoP best parallels "Matthew" and "Matthew" has an implication that dead Jesus was busy visiting the dead while on the cross. The best/only witness to the question here of witnessing to the dead would be the cross.

6 "Matthew" has the Angels minister to Jesus at the beginning (after tangling with Satan). So why not at the end after tangling with Death and Hell.

You are pricking against the guts of the scope here. The number of times your argument resorts to "if" and similar wording is a clue.

As a cross test, reverse the argument, and assume the offending word was "crucified one". Now consider the difficult reading principle and the scope above.

Ehrman's righteous observation is not the problem here.


Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Joseph, for your comments on what you have read so far.

JoeWallack said...

Again, based on the normal standards of what is textual criticism evidence, you do not appear to have any evidence for the offending reading. The larger question is what exactly are the standards of SBL for acceptance.

The evidence for the text is something greater than you have shown here. Ehrman writes in "Lost Christianities" page 23 that we probably have 3 fragments from GoP from the 2nd and 3rd century, one of which falls within the area covered by the much later text and per Ehrman's implication, parallels well.

Another problem for you, which adds to the pedigree of the offending word, is that we have some PROVENANCE for this text. It was buried with a monk so presumably he would have preferred an accurate copy since he appears to have bet his life on it.


Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Joseph. I'd encourage you to wait for the paper, but I appreciate your attempts to work out what I may be saying and to comment on them. Very briefly, my proposal is what is known as a conjectural emendation. That's where one conjectures a reading that gives rise to a text. In the case of the Gospel of Peter, we only have this one, late text. The other fragments you mention are not of the passage in question, and there is a massive divergence where there is a parallel, which may point to real diversity in the textual history. But more anon.

Anebo said...

Do you think, without emendation, the size of Jesus and the angels might be related to the Shiur Kommah literature?

As for the talking cross, I immediately though of the talking lamp-stands in Hellenistic erotic poetry. They are so often chosen as the narrator of the poem (however unlikely it is that they might speak) because they are the only witness to the lover's tryst (cf. the statues of Priapic in the Priapea).

Not to say that the text isn't corrupt (my knowledge of text criticism is rudimentary), but it does seem possible to explain and accept the coherency of the extant readings.

Unknown said...

The giant Jesus reminds me of some mosaics of Samson found in synagogues throughout the ancient near east. It was common for heroes to become giants in text and artwork when what they accomplished was thought to be larger than life. Not unlike modern western tales of Paul Bunyan or John Henry.