The Harrowing of Hell

Yesterday I listened to Mark Goodacre’s recent podcast where he rethinks the walking, talking cross of the Gospel of Peter 42. It is one of the strangest parts of the story where Jesus and two other super tall men come from the grave and then a voice speaks from heaven asking if the Gospel was preached to those who are “asleep” (i.e. dead). As the document reads the cross (tou staurou) responds “yes”.

Goodacre suggests that the earlier version of the Gospel may not have said this. He proposes that instead there was a nomina sacra in place of the full word for cross, the sta. If this is so a scribe may have read sta as being short for staurou but Goodacre proposes that the word may have been a form of staurothenta which means crucified one and appears in 56.

One proposal he makes to support this is that the “Harrowing of Hell” which is popular in early Christian imagination and mentioned in 1 Peter 3.19-20; 4.6. This event always has Christ as the one preaching to the dead. So it would make sense that Jesus is the one addressed in the Gospel of Peter and that an earlier version read “the crucified” rather than “the cross”.

Of course, Goodacre admits that our lack of MSS on the Gospel of Peter makes it impossible to prove this point. I found the argument interesting. You can listen to it here.