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Examining the Cross Gospel

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  • bjtraff
    In reading Ted s thesis on Marcan dependence on the Cross Gospel, one may view it critically in a number of ways. In my own opinion, the most important
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 2, 2002
      In reading Ted's thesis on Marcan dependence on the Cross Gospel, one
      may view it critically in a number of ways. In my own opinion, the
      most important question that needs to be asked, is can the Cross
      Gospel be shown to predate the Synoptics, or is it more probably a
      later work? If the latter, then very simply we must reject any
      suggestion, regardless of the merits of individual arguments or
      claims, that the Synoptics, or Mark in particular relied upon this
      later work. Thus, in this essay, I will not be addressing the vast
      majority of Ted's specific arguments, and will look, instead, at the
      underlying assumptions. If the assumptions and suppositions prove to
      be untenable, then the entire thesis must be rejected.


      The entire argument for the primacy of the Cross Gospel rests upon
      three critical assumptions.

      1) To quote from the chief proponent of the CG theory, "I take it for
      granted that early Christianity knew nothing about the passion beyond
      the fact itself." (J. D. Crossan, _The Historical Jesus_, [New York:
      HarperCollins, 1992], pg. 387). Ted accepts this statement without
      qualification in his own post, so in this essay I will take Crossan's
      supporting arguments to be his as well.
      2) Within the Gospel of Peter, an earlier clear strata is
      discernable, and can be identified as belonging to the mid-1st
      Century (c. 50 CE), as opposed to the obvious 2nd Century CE dating
      of GPeter itself. This becomes the CG.
      3) The material contained in this earlier strata was the only source,
      beyond Mark's own theological imagination, for the construction of
      his passion narrative (as well as for all subsequent PN's found in
      the NT. To Crossan they *all* used the CG and Mark, plus their own
      theological imaginations). Again quoting Crossan, "I see no
      convincing evidence that Mark has any other basis for his passion
      narrative than that source (the CG) and his own theological
      creativity" (Ibid. pg. 389). As Ted does not argue this in his own
      essays, I will not dwell extensively on this point, except to point
      out those areas where the CG can be shown to depend upon the
      Canonicals themselves. After all, if the CG used GMatt for example,
      then it is obviously later than Matt, and therefore later than Mark
      as well.

      If any of these premises can be shown to have serious weaknesses,
      then further arguments built upon them will fail, or, at the very
      least, should be treated with great scepticism. If all three of them
      are demonstrated to be highly improbable, and even implausible, then
      any case constructed upon them should likewise be rejected.


      Others have already expressed their scepticism on this point, but as
      it is absolutely essential for this belief to be true in order for
      the remainder of Ted's (or Crossan's) arguments to carry any weight,
      I believe it should be addressed in detail. For the sake of
      argument, let us begin with the assumption that Crossan is correct.
      If we find that the early Christians, and specifically the
      evangelists that composed the Gospels did not know anything about the
      passion and death of Jesus, beyond the mere fact of it happening,
      then we must admit that we have absolutely no outside controlling
      factors to guide us in examining the stories offered to us. Quite
      simply, no one knows what happened, no one that did know would have
      bothered to refute the evangelists and Christians, and anyone that
      could have investigated the facts would not have bothered to do so.
      Crossan recognizes this fact, and tells us that this is exactly what
      happened. Of course, Crossan may be right here, but if he is, then
      the field is far more open that he seems willing to admit. I would
      propose that if Crossan *is* right, then a more likely source for
      Mark's PN is GJohn, but, of course, he and I would probably agree
      that this is a near impossibility. Yet any careful reading of the PN
      in GMark, GJohn and GPeter will show us far more parallels between
      the first two, than between either of them and the latter. The task
      of isolating a pre-existent PN within John, and then connecting it to
      Mark would be a far simpler task than the Herculean effort Crossan
      must put into trying to show us how Mark used a pre-existent version
      of the PN from Peter instead. Fortunately (or not), Crossan does not
      seem willing to grant such a possibility in the first place (and
      would be correct in doing so), but less fortunately, he continues to
      press his claim for the CG, and therefore we should examine some of
      the contrary evidence, and see how his thesis holds up.

      First, consider his assertion that Simon of Cyrene was a Marcan
      invention. Here he argues that there would be no one around at the
      time Mark wrote his Gospel who would have even bothered to check and
      find out that such a person existed at all. Yet, in Mark 15:21 he
      tells us not only about Simon but that he was "the father of
      Alexander and Rufus." He even does so in what can only be called an
      off handed and casual manner. Thus, if we are to believe Crossan,
      Mark is not only making up Simon, but also his sons, and he
      introduces those sons only by telling us their names, yet nothing
      more. Previously (in my post of Nov. 30, 2001, "Dating GMark") I
      have noted how this not only strengthens the probable historicity of
      the man Simon, also tells us that his sons were almost certainly
      members of the community to which Mark was writing. It would be
      remarkable that Mark could get away with creating Simon of Cyrene out
      of whole cloth, but it strains credulity to the breaking point to
      believe as well that he successfully created fictitious characters
      that supposedly lived within his own community! It is worth noting
      that in Ted's own reply (Dec 4, 2001 10:21 pm) to my post, he agreed
      that the evidence for the historicity of Alexander and Rufus, sons of
      Simon, "does tend to strengthen your argument." Thus, if the sons
      were historical, then so is Simon, and if Simon since not found in
      the CG, then we have at least one detail of the PN found in Mark that
      did not spring entirely from Mark's "theological creativity."

      Next we have the statement that there were no reliable eye witnesses
      to the crucifixion available to Mark, and this is equally incredible
      (if not more so). The Romans did not scourge and crucify people in
      private. They did so in full public display, intending it to be a
      very effective deterrent and warning to others who might be
      considering defying their power. After being publicly scourged
      (probably in an open area visible to as many individuals as
      possible), Jesus was executed on a hill (reserved for just such
      occasions) outside one of the main gates to the city of Jerusalem,
      and at a minimum hung there for several hours, probably during the
      height of the Passover Week celebrations. To postulate that no one
      saw this event, and more importantly, that no women, disciples, or
      even future Christians saw it defies all common sense.

      Finally, and perhaps most famously, Crossan would have us believe not
      only that Joseph of Arimathea was a pure invention, so was the entire
      idea that Jesus was buried in any kind of a tomb. The truth of the
      matter, according to Crossan, is that Jesus was most likely left to
      rot on the cross itself, and thereby eaten by dogs and birds, or that
      he was buried in a shallow common grave by the Roman soldiers.
      Rather than argue against all of these claims, one need only note
      that *all* of them *must* be true, or Crossan's entire case
      collapses. Given Crossan's highly implausible reasons for rejecting
      of the evidence available to us, plus the fact that the belief that
      Jesus' was buried in a tomb is in no way an extraordinary claim in
      need of extraordinary evidence, one is left to wonder why we must
      reject *all* of the evidence that tells us that Jesus *was* buried in
      a tomb, and accept, instead, the 20th Century hypothesis that he was
      left to rot on the cross instead. In other words, what we have is a
      set of evidence, as found in the Gospels (including Crossan's
      hypothetical CG), in which there is unanimous agreement that Jesus
      was buried in a tomb by Joseph (of Ariamathea). Against this we
      have an hypothesis that suggests that he was left on the cross,
      contravening all known Jewish burial laws, as well as the one piece
      of hard historical evidence on the burial of another early 1st
      Century CE Jew, and for which we have no supporting evidence at all
      beyond the hypothesis itself. Quite simply the acceptance of such
      methodology would turn historical inquiry on its head, and we would
      be left in a world where historians could freely propose any theory
      or hypothesis they fancied, rejecting all contrary evidence, and
      thereby insuring that their claims remained safely irrefutable.
      Needless to say, this would be extremely poor historical critical
      methodology, and as with other cases where hypothesis is offered in
      place of (and even against) existing evidence, it should be rejected.

      On the basis of the three pieces of evidence listed above, I believe
      it is prudent to reject Crossan's first premise in toto.


      The next premise that must hold in order for Crossan's (or Ted's)
      hypothesis to have value is that the CG itself must clearly date to
      before the Canonicals, and specifically in Ted's case, the CG must
      predate Mark. Here I am going to assume that he agrees that GMark is
      the first of the Canonicals, and that it dates to c.70 CE. On this
      basis, the CG must date to 50-60 CE. We can now turn our attention
      to the evidence to see if this can be born out.

      First, what do we know of the Gospel of Peter itself? This is
      crucial, as this document serves as our only hard evidence for the
      existence of a possible Cross Gospel, and if the evidence here is
      weak, then further speculations that depend on the reliability of
      GPeter should be treated with extreme caution.

      To start, the only extant copies of GPeter available to us to date
      come from c. 8th Century CE and later. From a textual critical
      standpoint, this is not necessarily fatal to its probable
      reliability, but it should make us cautious, as we have no early
      extant textual evidence from which to work. We do have two small
      fragments from the 2nd Century (Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 2949), but these
      contain no more than 16 discernable words from 20 partial lines,
      agreeing with Peter 2:3-5 (see R. Brown, _Death of the Messiah_, Vol.
      2 [New York: Doubleday, 1993], pg. 1317-8). Obviously, the latter
      evidence can only tell us that GPeter was in circulation in the 2nd
      Century, but we cannot know how closely the 8th Century texts adhered
      to this earlier copy (let alone the original, or its sources!). We
      also have some references to such a document found in the Early
      Fathers and Eusebius, but none of these contain extensive quotations,
      so again, we cannot be certain how closely the later extant copies
      adhered to the wording of the originals. On this basis, Brown's
      overall caution is well made:

      "…one factor must be kept firmly in mind. The Akhmim codex (c. 8th
      Century CE) gives us a copy made some six hundred years after the
      original of GPet was written; and we can be sure that copyists made
      changes in that long course of transcription-probably all the more
      freely because this work, circulated privately, was widely deemed as
      heterodox, and was not read publicly, as were the canonical Gospels
      where greater supervision was exercised and changes would have been
      noticed. When the vocabulary or even the sequence of GPet agrees
      with that of the canonical Gospels, there is ALWAYS THE DANGER THAT
      (R. Brown, BDM, Vol. 2, pg. 1321).

      By now it should be obvious why we need to be cautious in our claims
      for dependence, in either direction for what is found in GPeter and
      the Canonicals. That said, there are a number of very good reasons
      to reject 1st Century authorship of either the Gospel of Peter, and
      even of Crossan's hypothetical Cross Gospel.

      The first reason to reject early dating is the extremely high
      Christology found in the text (itself indicative of a late dating),
      including the extracted portions Crossan identifies as the CG. Again
      I will rely upon Brown to help make this point clearly:

      "The personal name of Jesus is never used, nor even `Christ.' `Lord'
      is the most consistent designation (14 times); also `Son of God' (4
      times). Those who scourge Jesus refer to him as the Son of God
      (3:9); a co-crucified wrongdoer recognizes that he is the "Savior of
      men' (4:13); all the Jewish people recognize how just he was (8:28);
      Roman soldiers and Jewish elders who were trying to safeguard the
      tomb have to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God (10:38, 11:45),
      as does Pilate (11:46). The divine power is so inherent in Jesus
      that when his dead body touches the earth it quakes (6:21); and his
      raised body stretches from earth to above the heavens, outdistancing
      the angels (10:40)."
      (Ibid. pg. 1338-9)

      In looking at this list, we can find no evidence of any other 1st
      Century Christian text that never refers to Jesus by name, and only
      by title of "Lord" alone. In the case of Paul, Jesus is most
      commonly referred to as Christ (together with Jesus, or alone), and
      only rarely as "Lord", and then almost always accompanied by his full
      name/title of Jesus Christ. And in the Canonical Gospels, of course,
      including John (probably the latest of the four), Jesus' name appears
      very frequently, and only in Luke is he referred to by the title
      of "Lord" with any kind of regularity, and then only when he is being
      addressed by his disciples (or an individual believer), or when
      quoting OT Scripture in reference to a prophecy. Further, in Luke's
      case, one could argue that when Jesus is being addressed directly
      as `lord', it is only in the more common form, akin to our
      modern `sir,' (i.e. the centurion's friends in Luke 7:6, or the man
      in 9:59) But in the case of Peter's Gospel, it is obvious that Jesus
      is viewed as the `Lord God.'

      `Son of God' is more common, but not in the Gospel of Mark (where its
      inclusion in Mark 1:1 is often seen as a later scribal interpolation
      or redaction), where it is used only once (3:11) indisputably, and
      then, certainly never in the PN. Since Ted wishes to argue only for
      Marcan dependence, this double omission (of the use of the
      title "Lord" or "Son of God" is telling (Lord is used only in 16:19-
      20, which is universally recognized as later interpolations to the
      original GMark).

      In relation to the Gospel of Mark, one need hardly mention the fact
      that Jesus is *never* referred to as the "Savior of men," nor is he
      acknowledged by the Jewish high priests, Sadducees, Pharisees,
      Pilate, the people, Roman soldiers, nor anyone else anywhere in this
      Gospel. Finally, there are no guards at the tomb, nor resurrection
      witnesses, and certainly no talking cross. Obviously the case for
      dependence is not strengthened here. In fact, I would suggest that
      had Crossan never proposed a connection between GMark and GPeter, no
      one would have ever suspected to even try looking for one. In the
      case of Paul's letter to the Corinthians, one could hardly see this
      text as a reference to *any* kind of special religious observance,
      let alone connect it to the Sabbath or "the Lord's Day."

      Another argument for later 2nd Century dating is the term "the Lord's
      Day" (12:50), an expression found no where else in 1st Century
      documents (unless one accepts Revelation/The Apocalypse of John as
      1st Century, and here it is used only once, in 1:10), but extremely
      common in the 2nd and later when Christians had finally broken with
      all Jewish traditions regarding the Sabbath. Parallels to 2nd
      Century documents are too numerous to list here, but are easily
      found. In fact, the expression used in 1st Century documents is
      simply the "first day of the week" (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2),
      and even then only Acts uses it in the context of it being a day for
      Christians to gather together in fellowship and to break bread, and
      not specifically in observance of a new Sabbath day.

      Finally, we have evidence within GPeter that the author has no real
      knowledge of 1st Century Judaism, the OT Scriptures, including the
      LXX, or even of basic political facts in Palestine c. 30 CE. The
      idea of "king" Herod being superior to Pontius Pilate is so
      laughable, Brown compares it to a modern author writing about 19th
      Century England, and telling us that the country was a republic ruled
      by a President (BDM, pg. 1340). Even Crossan is forced to admit that
      the idea that Pilate was beholden to "king" Herod regarding matters
      of capital punishment to be so implausible that Mark had to change
      this to the more historically accurate account where Pilate alone
      sentences Jesus to death (albeit under pressure).

      "The third major change made by Mark was a better `historization' of
      the Cross Gospel's account. Herod Antipas is removed completely from
      the story, and Pontius Pilate is now in full charge. And soldiers,
      not people conduct the crucifixion… PILATE MUST BE IN CHARGE, SINCE
      (J. D. Crossan, _The Historical Jesus_, pg. 390).

      As for why Mark *had* to make this change to remain historically
      plausible in the 70's, but the author of the CG, supposedly written
      in the 50's, is not bothered by this *exact* historical
      implausibility (especially as Crossan would have us believe that both
      authors are just making the entire thing up as they go), Crossan
      never really explains. In my opinion, it is the fact that the
      simplest solution, namely that by the 2nd Century, people could be
      much fuzzier on what was plausible in early 1st Century Palestine,
      is not very palatable to Crossan or his theories, so he skips over it
      as quickly as he can. Unfortunately, this inability to address
      contrary evidence and explanations is an all too common failing in
      Crossan's work here, and in the end, it proves to be a fatal weakness
      in his entire thesis.

      Clearly, we can see from the evidence, a mid-1st Century dating of
      the CG is so improbable as to be classified as virtually impossible.
      As for it being authored later than Canonical Mark, we can safely say
      that this is certain. Thus, Crossan's second premise, like the first,
      fails completely.


      As we have seen in the discussion of possible dates for the
      composition of the Cross Gospel, Crossan's premise already fails.
      Quite simply, it was written too late to be known to Mark, and, in
      fact, the case is much stronger that other Canonical Gospels served
      as a source for the CG. Rather than go through all of the arguments
      for non-dependence of the Canonicals on the CG, however, I will
      focus, instead, on a few critical pieces of additional evidence, as
      to why Mark did not use the CG.

      First, none of the Canonical Gospels use more than two or three
      consecutive words found in GPeter, with the single exception of "Lest
      having come, his/the disciples steal him," (GP 8:30, Matt 27:64) (see
      BDM, pg. 1332-3, and my further discussion below). Clearly one can
      argue for redactional differences in dependent texts, but in this
      case, given the length of the material found in the Passion
      Narratives of all five Gospel accounts, one would expect to see at
      least some agreements in vocabulary and word order between the
      Canonicals and GPeter. In the case of Mark, we have nothing. Even
      in the extremely dramatic death cry, there is significant
      differences. GPeter (and Crossan's CG) has Jesus cry out "My power,
      O power, you have forsaken me" (5:19), which even Crossan must admit
      would not cause us to look to Psalm 22 for inspiration in the
      account. Mark not only references Psalm 22 correctly, but does so in
      Aramaic, "E'lo-i, E'lo-i, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" a language entirely
      absent in all of GPeter! Notice that in GPeter, the cry is not even
      phrased as a question. Mark would have had to be a very clever
      fellow indeed to have read the CG and somehow been inspired to look
      to an Aramaic version of Hebrew Scripture for his own dissimilar

      Next, on a purely textual level, Crossan wishes to argue that GPeter
      2:3 is a part of the latest stage in that gospel's composition, yet
      this exact passage is found in Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 2949! One is left
      to wonder how far a speculation is allowed to run before some
      expectation of actual supporting evidence is demanded. (See
      Crossan's _The Historical Jesus_ pg. 385-7 for an outline of the CG
      found within GPeter. He lists 1:1-2, 2:5b-6:22, 7:25, 8:28-10:42,
      11:45-49 as the original CG).

      Third, I owe thanks to J. P. Meier's detailed examination of the
      single instance where GPeter and a Canonical Gospel *do* agree in
      vocabulary and word order, namely Matthew 27:64 and GPeter 8:30 (note
      that this is a part of Crossan's Cross Gospel as well). In my view
      Meier shows conclusively how the former almost certainly was
      dependent upon the latter. (I offer this on the basis of general
      agreement that Matt follows Mark, and therefore and indication of
      dependence of the CG on Matt would settle the question of which came

      "When it comes to who is dependent on whom (for this passage), all
      the signs point to Matthew's priority. `His disciples' (referring to
      Jesus' disciples) is a common phrase in Matthew, and of course the
      word `disciple' itself is extremely common in Matthew (73x, more than
      any other NT book). In contrast, the word `disciple' never occurs
      elsewhere in Crossan's Cross Gospel… Similarly, the verb `to steal'
      (klepto) occurs four other times in Matthew, but nowhere else in the
      Gospel of Peter. Also, the conjunction `lest' (mepote) occurs seven
      other times in Matthew; it occurs once again in Gospel of Peter 15,
      but in a somewhat different construction (object clause of a verb of
      fearing). The use of the participle `coming' (elthontes) as an
      accompaniment to a principle verb of action occurs twenty-seven times
      elsewhere in Matthew, but nowhere else in the Gospel of Peter. IN
      GOSPEL OF PETER." (emphasis mine)
      (J. P. Meier, _A Marginal Jew_, Vol. 1, [New York: Doubleday, 1991]
      pg. 117)

      Of course, one must also remember that Meier is talking about a
      possible example of dependence between Matt and GPeter that is not
      found in Mark. Thus, even IF Meier could be proven wrong here, it
      would not strengthen the case for Marcan dependence on the CG. As it
      is, since the case for dependence of this part of the CG on Matthew
      is clearly demonstrated, then this serves as one more nail in the
      coffin for the foundation to Crossan's entire thesis.

      Finally, on the specific question of parallels between Mark and
      GPeter, Brown lists these on page 1327 of BDM. Of these, the
      strongest appears to be GPeter 12:53 and Mark 16:3.

      "In GPet 12:53 the women ask the rhetorical question, `Who will roll
      away for us even the stone placed against the door of the tomb?'; in
      Mark 16:3 they ask, `Who will roll away for us the stone from the
      door of the tomb?' Both works have the sentence, `For the stone was
      large,' even if the word order is different and Mark alone has the
      adverb sphodra (`very')."
      (Brown, BDM, pg. 1327).

      After noting the other cases of similar wording (kentyrion/centurion,
      neaniskos/young man, `photobeisthai' and `pheugein'/'frightened'
      and `flight', this last one the word order is changed, and the
      mention of the name Levi of Alphaeus) Brown concludes that "[T]hese
      few similarities (several of which also contain differences) are
      insufficient to show that GPet was a primary source for the Marcan
      evangelist (Crossan's thesis) or, in the other direction, that the
      author of GPet had Mark before him as a he wrote." (Ibid. pg. 1327).


      Based on my arguments above, we can safely conclude that the three
      underlying premises of Crossan's entire Cross Gospel thesis fail. On
      this basis, his arguments, and any others (like Weeden's) built upon
      them, must be likewise rejected. I recognize the obvious amount of
      work and thought that Ted has put into his own essays, but at the end
      of the day, we must always be asking ourselves first and foremost, if
      the foundations of the arguments are solid, and only then we can turn
      our attention to the specifics of those arguments themselves. In my
      opinion, and in agreement with the vast majority of scholarly opinion
      available to us today, Crossan's case simply does not hold up. The
      evidence for dating tells us that the Cross Gospel, even if it could
      be shown to exist, would still be later than the Canonical Gospels.
      Further, any evidence of dependence that we do have points from the
      Canonicals to GPeter, and not the other way around. Finally, and
      perhaps most importantly, the notion that no one either knew anything
      about the actual passion, death and burial of Jesus, or those that
      did know, did not care, or finally, those that could have checked out
      the facts did not bother to even try is so incredible that credulity
      must be strained to the breaking point to accept this scenario as
      being even possible.

      On every count, the case for the Cross Gospel serving as a possible
      source for Mark fails. Thus, the hunt for possible Marcan sources
      continues, but to date, without resolution.

      Thank you, and be well,

      Brian Trafford
      Calgary, AB, Canada
    • RSBrenchley@aol.com
      I agree that something on the lines of Paul s incarnate messiah would be unviable without a resurrection; who wants a dead messiah? There are other
      Message 2 of 2 , Feb 3, 2002

        I agree that something on the lines of Paul's incarnate messiah would be
        unviable without a resurrection; who wants a dead messiah? There are other
        possibilities, however. A martyred prophet would be possible, or a sort of
        proto-Ebionite christology, with Jesus as a man possessed by an angelic
        deliverer conceived on the lines of Melchisedek in 11Q13. If (and I emphasise
        'if') Phil. 2:6-11 is pre-Pauline, then that has an exalted angelic being
        without any mention of a resurrection, which may be significant.


        Robert Brenchley

        Birmingham, UK.
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