The Walking, Talking Cross in the Gospel of Peter: Goodacre vs. Foster

Many are familiar with the walking, talking cross in the Gospel of Peter, but I include the relevant text here for those unacquainted:

But when the morning of the Sabbath dawned, a crowd from Jerusalem and the region round about came that they might see the sealed sepulcher. But in the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, as the soldiers kept guard two by two at their post, there was a great voice in heaven. And they saw the heavens opened, and two men descend from there in a great brightness and approach the tomb. But that stone which laid at the entrance started of itself to roll and move sidewards, and the tomb was opened and both young men entered.

As those soldiers saw this, they awakened the centurion and the elders, because they also were there to keep watch. And while they were telling what they had seen, again they saw three men coming out from the tomb, and two of them supporting one, and a cross following them, and the head of the two reaching to heaven, but that of the one who was led by them overpassing the heavens. And they heard a voice out of the heavens, saying: “Have you preached to those who sleep?” And a response was heard from the cross: “Yes.” (Gospel of Peter 9:34-10:42)

Back in 2010 Mark Goodacre, on a blog post, offered a novel proposal for explaining the unusual nature of this scene. He suggested that we should “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 would result in the latter half of the passage reading as follows:

And while they were telling what they had seen, again they saw three men coming out from the tomb, and two of them supporting one, and the crucified one following them, and the head of the two reaching to heaven, but that of the one who was led by them overpassing the heavens. And they heard a voice out of the heavens, saying: “Have you preached to those who sleep? And a response was heard from the crucified one: “Yes.”

Please read Goodacre’s post for more of his argumentation, as he offers reasons in support of his claims.

Paul Foster has just published an article in the Journal of Theological Studies, attempting to rebut Goodacre’s proposal: “Do Crosses Walk and Talk? A Reconsideration of Gospel of Peter 10.39–42″, JTS 64 (2013): 89-104. Here is Foster’s abstract:

There has been a recent upsurge in support for a conjectural emendation in the text of Gos. Pet. 10.39, 42. The proposed change suggests that instead of a moving and talking cross (σταυρόν), the text should be emended to refer to the crucified one (σταυρωθέντα). The motivation for the change is that as it stands the text ‘is almost unbelievably absurd’. This essay seeks to rebut that suggestion on three levels. First, the proposed emendation introduces more problems than it solves. Secondly, elsewhere in the extant portion of the Gospel of Peter there are other indications that the author heightens miraculous elements, especially in relation to inanimate objects becoming animate. Thirdly, while the notion of a walking and talking cross may offend modern sensibilities, it is a plausible idea in its ancient context, and other texts from the period also contain descriptions of moving and articulate crosses.

I am reading Foster’s article and will post my thoughts on this question next week. In the meantime, any thoughts from readers?

P. S. – Goodacre has recently posed the question of whether it is appropriate to respond to blog posts with a peer-reviewed article and people seem divided on the issue (see the comments section).

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6 thoughts on “The Walking, Talking Cross in the Gospel of Peter: Goodacre vs. Foster

  1. Wrote a paper on it positing a different interpretation. Promised to send a copy to Dr. Goodacre but now can’t remember if I did.

  2. Question: Why would the cross have been put in the tomb with Jesus to begin with?

    It’s not just ‘unbelievably absurd’ from a modern standpoint (a walking, talking cross? pfffh), but I can’t think of any justification there would be from an ancient worldview. (Would it have fit in the tomb? would it have been a gigantic hassle to get there? would burying Jesus with his cross have been seen as abhorrent or pointless by the people burying him?)

  3. As an Orthodox Christian my immediate response is not to question the validity of a talking cross, but to see what the Holy Fathers have written on this. If they have not, I would be surprised but at the same time assume that Peter is not exaggerating. After all did Paul not heal the sick with his own shadow? Is it so hard for us to imagie that the Son of God is also the Tree of Life and the First Adam, as well? Is He not a babe in a mangert and Thue word which created the universe?Did He not trample death by His own Death and bestow life by His resurrection?
    What of Christ’s miracles? Should we also scrutinize if He really fed five thousand?

    Anyone have a copy of the Ancient Christian Commentaries volume on hand?

  4. The question is: How could anyone change σταυρωθεντα on σταυρον? This could happen either accidentally or intentionally. The former doesn’t seem very likely (too big difference at least in the number of the letters), so we have at least one person (“Editor”) for whom the talking and walking cross isn’t a weird thing and makes sense. If this is so, what are the reason for supposing that the original author couldn’t think in this truly astonishing way?

    • Goodacre’s theory isn’t exactly that the scribe “changed” the Greek words. Rather, it was a misunderstanding of an abbreviation. You can read his blog post for the full explanation, but here is the most relevant part:

      “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.”

  5. Pingback: Where do we belong?—Meditations on the Feast of Saints Peter & Paul—where DO we belong? | TIERRA LIMPIA by Charles Lincoln

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