Skip to main content

Whence the Giant Jesus and his Talking Cross? The Resurrection in Gospel of Peter 10.39–42 as Prophetic Fulfilment of LXX Psalm 18

  • Deane Galbraith (a1)

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.

Hide All

1 My thanks to Alin Suciu, Mark Goodacre and James G. Crossley for comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this article, and also to those who provided helpful and insightful questions and comments at presentations of the paper on which this article was based at the University of Otago Religion Seminar, 3 October 2014, and the Aotearoa-New Zealand Association of Biblical Studies Conference, 9 December 2014.

2 Mark 15.42–7; 16.1–8; Matt 27.57–61; 28.1–8; Luke 23.50–6; 24.1–12; John 19.38–42; 20.1–13. Matthew interpolates a further account which adds Roman soldiers who guard the tomb (27.62–6; 28.4; cf. 28.11–15).

3 In Matt 28.9–10, 16–20; Luke 24.13–53; John 20.14–31 (and John 21); Mark 16.9–18.

4 Nicklas T., ‘Resurrection in the Gospels of Matthew and Peter: Some Developments’, Life Beyond Death in Matthew's Gospel: Religious Metaphor or Bodily Reality? (ed. Weren W. et al. .; BTS 13; Peeters: Leuven, 2011) 2741 .

5 Nicklas T., ‘Angels in Early Christian Narratives on the Resurrection of Jesus: Canonical and Apocryphal Texts’, Angels: The Concept of Celestial Beings – Origins, Development and Reception (ed. Reiterer F. V. et al. .; Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature Yearbook 2007; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2007) 293311, at 298, 300.

6 Although the dating of GPet and its literary relationship with the canonical gospels is contentious, it is widely dated to the second century ce: Robinson J. A. and James M. R., The Gospel according to Peter, and the Revelation of Peter: Two Lectures on the Newly Recovered Fragments together with the Greek Texts (London: C. J. Clay and Sons, 1892) 32; Swete H. B., The Akmîm Fragment of the Apocryphal Gospel of St. Peter (London: Macmillan, 1893) xxxvii; Turner C. H., ‘The Gospel of Peter’, JTS 14 (1913) 161–87, at 164; Dibelius M., ‘Die alttestamentlichen Motive in der Leidensgeschichte des Petrus- und des Johannes-Evangeliums’, Abhandlungen zur semitischen Religionskunde und Sprachwissenschaft: Wolf Wilhelm Grafen von Baudissin zum 26. September 1917 (ed. Frankenberg W. and Küchler F.; BZAW 33; Gießen: Alfred Töpelmann, 1918) 125–50, at 146; B. A. Johnson, ‘Empty Tomb Tradition in the Gospel of Peter’ (ThD thesis, Harvard University, 1965) 7 (terminus ad quem 200 ce; terminus a quo 70 ce); Brown R. E., ‘The Gospel of Peter and Canonical Gospel Priority’, NTS 33 (1987) 321–43, at 335; Kraus T. J. and Nicklas T., eds., Das Petrusevangelium und die Petrusapokalypse: Die griechischen Fragmente mit deutscher und englischer Übersetzung (GCS; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2004) 1516 (with the proviso that, as the content of Serapion's text is largely unknown and there were many other ancient Petrine texts, identification with GPet cannot be made ‘mit letzter Sicherheit’); Foster P., The Gospel of Peter: Introduction, Critical Edition and Commentary (TENT 4; Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2010) 172 (with the proviso that identification with the text encountered by Serapion remains uncertain); contra the pre-canonical dating of a hypothetical earliest layer by Koester H., ‘Apocryphal and Canonical Gospels’, HTR 73 (1980) 105–30, 126–8; Crossan J. D., The Cross That Spoke: The Origins of the Passion Narrative (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988) 1617 ; Dewey A. J., ‘Resurrection Texts in the Gospel of Peter’, Forum 10.3–4 (1994) 177–96, at 182.

7 See section 2.1 below.

8 Text and tr. Foster, Gospel of Peter, 408, adding Foster's proposed emendations (408–13); cf. Kraus and Nicklas, eds., Das Petrusevangelium, 42–3, 52.

9 I do not evaluate here the merits and limitations of Mark Goodacre's recent suggestion to emend σταυρόν (‘cross’) to σταυρωθέντα (‘crucified’), i.e. referring to Jesus rather than his cross (‘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)); contra, Foster P., ‘Do Crosses Walk and Talk? A Reconsideration of Gospel of Peter 10.39–42’, JTS 64 (2013) 89104, at 97–9.

10 Foster, Gospel of Peter, 417; cf. Vaganay L., L’Évangile de Pierre (ÉB; Paris: Gabalda, 1930 2) 288–9, 300; Mara M. G., Évangile de Pierre: introduction, texte critique, traduction, commentaire et index (SC 201; Paris: Cerf, 1973) 182–4; Brown, ‘Gospel of Peter’, 336; Koester H., Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development (Philadelphia: TPI/London: SCM, 1990) 232–3; Hieke T., ‘Das Petrusevangelium vom Alten Testament her gelesen: Gewinnbringende Lektüre eines nicht-kanonischen Textes vom christlichen Kanon her’, Das Evangelium nach Petrus: Text, Kontexte, Intertexte (ed. Kraus T. J. and Nicklas T.; TU 158; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2007) 91115, at 114; Henderson. T. P. The Gospel of Peter and Early Christian Apologetics (WUNT ii/301; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011) 154.

11 Turner, ‘Gospel of Peter’, 166.

12 Arguably the preaching to the dead replaces the reference to the dead saints of Jerusalem. But if GPet had a heightened interest in the miraculous, it might be expected to have included both items.

13 ‘The Jews’ are made to confess their guilt (7.25), proclaim Jesus’ innocence (8.28), attend the tomb to reinforce the guard and witness the resurrection (8.31b), threaten the guards with stoning if they spoke of the resurrection (11.48), and keep Mary in fear of visiting the tomb (12.50, 52).

14 See the analyses in Dibelius, ‘Die alttestamentlichen Motive’, 145; Denker J., Die theologiegeschichtliche Stellung des Petrusevangeliums (EH 23/26; Bern/Frankfurt: Herbert Lang/Peter Lang, 1975) 5877 ; Hieke, ‘Das Petrusevangelium’, 91–115.

15 Cf. Brown, ‘Gospel of Peter’, 327.

16 Foster, Gospel of Peter, 323. Cf. Hieke, ‘Das Petrusevangelium’, 96, 101–3, who also discusses other possible Old Testament resonances.

17 Hieke, ‘Das Petrusevangelium’, 113–14.

18 Swete, Akmîm Fragment, xxxvi.

19 Johnson, ‘Empty Tomb Tradition’, 83; Mara, Évangile de Pierre, 174, 183; Dewey, ‘Resurrection Texts’, 185–7; idem, “Time to Murder and Create”: Visions and Revisions in the Gospel of Peter’, Semeia 49 (1990) 101–27, at 114–19; Koester, ‘Apocryphal and Canonical Gospels’, 129–30.

20 Swete, Akmîm Fragment, 18; Vaganay, L’Évangile de Pierre, 299; Crossan, Cross That Spoke, 346; Foster, Gospel of Peter, 418–20.

21 Crossan, Cross That Spoke, 338.

22 Robinson and James, Gospel according to Peter, 26–7; Swete, Akmîm Fragment, 18.

23 Foster, Gospel of Peter, 416–18.

24 Vaganay, L’Évangile de Pierre, 299; Daniélou J., The Development of Christian Doctrine before the Council of Nicaea, vol. i: The Theology of Jewish Christianity (tr. Baker J.; Chicago: The Henry Regnery Company, 1964) 265, 291; Prieur J.-M., ‘La croix vivante dans la littérature chrétienne du iie siècle’, Revue d'Histoire et de Philosophie Religieuses 79 (1999) 435–44, at 442–3.

25 Daniélou, Theology of Jewish Christianity, 266–92; Denker, Die theologiegeschichtliche Stellung, 97; Prieur, ‘La croix vivante’, 440.

26 Vaganay, L’Évangile de Pierre, 299; Crossan, Cross That Spoke, 362; Prieur, ‘La croix vivante’, 440; Foster, Gospel of Peter, 425–9.

27 Swete, Akmîm Fragment, 18; Turner, ‘Gospel of Peter’, 179; Foster, Gospel of Peter, 403; idem, ‘Do Crosses Walk and Talk?’, 97–9.

28 Vaganay, L’Évangile de Pierre, 299; Mara, Évangile de Pierre, 184; Crossan, Cross That Spoke, 382.

29 Foster, Gospel of Peter, 418.

30 Sandmel S., ‘Parallelomania’, JBL 81 (1962) 113 .

31 On the phenomenon within early Christianity, see e.g. Lindars B., New Testament Apologetic: The Doctrinal Significance of Old Testament Quotations (London: SCM, 1961); Juel D., Messianic Exegesis: Christological Interpretation of the Old Testament in Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988); Hays R. B., Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, TX: Baylor, 2014).

32 Ennar. Ps. 18; 44.3; 88.10; Cons. 1.46.30; Tract. Ev. Jo. 1.2; 2.3; 59.3; 78.3; Arian. 8.6; Serm. 192.3; 361.17; 377.

33 See the examples collected in Edo P. M., ‘A Revision of the Origin and Role of the Supporting Angels in the Gospel of Peter (10:39b)’, VC 68 (2014) 206–25.

34 Aune D., ‘Charismatic Exegesis in Early Judaism and Early Christianity’, The Pseudepigrapha and Early Biblical Interpretation (ed. Charlesworth J. H. and Evans C. A.; JSPSup 14; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1993) 143–8.

35 Cf. Swete, who describes the attempt to identify a version ‘[i]n the absence of formal quotations’ as ‘precarious to speculate upon’ (Akmîm Fragment, xxviii).

36 The translation is not recorded in Symmachus, which is closer to the Hebrew psalm's own context with ἰσχυρός (‘strong man’).

37 Foster, Gospel of Peter, 420.

38 The title is conventional and does not reflect the genre of the text.

39 My thanks to Alin Suciu for alerting me to many of these works, and for his valuable discussion and provision of resources.

40 Hedrick C. W. and Mirecki P. A., Gospel of the Savior: A New Ancient Gospel (Santa Rosa: Polebridge, 1999) 35.

41 Emmel S., ‘Preliminary Reedition and Translation of the Gospel of the Savior: New Light on the Strasbourg Coptic Gospel and the Stauros-Text from Nubia’, Apocrypha 14 (2003) 953, at 33.

42 Westerhoff M., Auferstehung und Jenseits im koptischen ‘Buch der Auferstehung Jesu Christi, unseres Herrn’ (OBC 11; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1999) 152–4.

43 Tr. S. Emmel, ‘Preliminary Reedition’, 33.

44 Emmel, ‘Preliminary Reedition’, 34, 48; idem, The Recently Published Gospel of the Savior (“Unbekanntes Berliner Evangelium”): Righting the Order of Pages and Events’, HTR 95 (2002) 4572, at 54–5; cf. Hagen J. L., ‘Ein anderer Kontext für die Berliner und Straßburger “Evangelienfragmente”: Das “Evangelium des Erlösers” und andere “Apostelevangelien” in der koptischen Literatur’, Jesus in apokryphen Evangelienüberlieferungen: Beiträge zu außerkanonischen Jesusüberlieferungen aus verschiedenen Sprach- und Kulturtraditionen (ed. Frey J. and Schröter J.; WUNT i/254; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010) 339–71, at 363.

45 Emmel, ‘Preliminary Reedition’, 30 n. 67.

46 Hedrick and Mirecki, Gospel of the Savior, 23. Emmel outlines the range of opinion in ‘Preliminary Reedition’, 29–30.

47 Suciu A., The Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon: A Coptic Apostolic Memoir (WUNT 370; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017) 132–8.

48 Hagen, ‘Ein anderer Kontext’, 363.

49 Text and tr. van den Broek R., who notes that the transfiguration scene ‘must have originated in a completely different context’: Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem: On the Life and the Passion of Christ: A Coptic Apocryphon (VCSup 118; Leiden: Brill, 2013) 51, 150–3; cf. Hagen, ‘Ein anderer Kontext’, 363.

50 Hagen, ‘Ein anderer Kontext’, 362–3; Suciu, Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon, 77–8.

51 Junod E. and Kaestli J.-D., Acta Iohannis (SA 1; Turnhout: Brepols, 1983) 632.

52 Junod and Kaestli, Acta Iohannis, 195.

53 MacDonald D. R., The Acts of Andrew and The Acts of Andrew and Matthias in the City of the Cannibals (TT 33; CA 1; Atlanta: Scholars, 1990) 184–5. The section is present only in the expanded recensions in Martyrium prius 14 and Nicetas’ Laudatio 46 (late eighth and early ninth centuries respectively), although parts may derive from the original second-century Acts of Andrew, as MacDonald argues (409).

54 Several early Christian texts give the glorified Jesus gigantic height, without any other detectable motifs shared with LXX Ps 18. For example, Hermas, Sim. 9.6 describes the Son of God as ‘a man of lofty stature, so as to overtop the tower’. The Acts of Perpetua and Felicitas describes Jesus as having ‘large stature’ (4) and as ‘a man of marvelous greatness, so as to exceed the top of the amphitheatre’ (10). According to Hippolytus and Epiphanius, the Elkasaite Christians also represented the glorified Jesus as a giant (Hippolytus of Rome, Ref. 9.13.2; Epiphanius, Pan. 30.3).

55 Harris J. R., ‘The Structure of the Gospel of Peter’, The Contemporary Review (1893) 217–36, at 220.

56 Harris, ‘Structure of the Gospel’, 224.

57 Vaganay, L’Évangile de Pierre, 303.

58 Johnson, ‘Empty Tomb Tradition’; Mara, Évangile de Pierre; Denker, Die theologiegeschichtliche Stellung; Koester, ‘Apocryphal and Canonical Gospels’; idem, Ancient Christian Gospels; Crossan J. D., Four Other Gospels: Shadows on the Contours of Canon (Minneapolis: Winston, 1985) 125–81; idem, Cross That Spoke; Foster, Gospel of Peter; Kraus and Nicklas, eds., Das Evangelium nach Petrus.

59 Other literalising interpretations of synonymous parallelism include Matt 21.5 (Zech 9.9); John 19.23 (LXX Ps 21.19; cf. GPet 4.12); and Acts 4.27 (LXX Ps 2.1–2).

60 See the recent survey in Giulea D. A., Pre-Nicene Christology in Paschal Contexts: The Case of the Divine Noetic Anthropos (VCSup; Leiden: Brill, 2014) 79 .

61 Visonà G., Pseudo Ippolito, In sanctum Pascha: studio, edizione, commento (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 1988) 300–2; tr. Hamman Adalbert, ed., The Paschal Mystery: Ancient Liturgies and Patristic Texts (New York: Alba House, 1969) 64–5, slightly adapted.

62 Similarly, Irenaeus, Epid. 34; see Daniélou, Theology of Jewish Christianity, 280.

63 Melito of Sardis: On Pascha and Fragments (ed. and tr. Hall Stuart G.; OECT; Oxford: Clarendon, 1979).

64 Daniélou, Theology of Jewish Christianity, 288.

65 Turner, ‘Gospel of Peter’, 172; contra Vaganay, L’Évangile de Pierre, 299.

66 Junod and Kaestli, Acta Iohannis, 589–632.

67 As rightly suggested in a curious work by Mead G. R. S., The Gnostic Crucifixion (London: The Theosophical Publishing Society, 1907) 15.

68 GPet’s attribution of the preaching to the cross does not necessarily envisage that Jesus did not also preach to the dead, but is simply a result of the gospel closely following the wording of its source, LXX Ps 18.2. Thus there is no necessary conflict with 1 Pet 3.19; 4.6.

69 Cf. Vaganay, L’Évangile de Pierre, 303.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

New Testament Studies
  • ISSN: 0028-6885
  • EISSN: 1469-8145
  • URL: /core/journals/new-testament-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 9
Total number of PDF views: 102 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 474 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 31st May 2017 - 16th January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.