(Continuing from the last post)
What makes the interpolation even more curious is its reference to “the third hour of the day” - which isn’t consistent with a dawn visit to the tomb. So at one least scholar, D.W. Palmer, wondered: what if this interpolation actually originally described an ‘ascension’ by the crucified Jesus, which was later changed into an ascension by the resurrected Jesus? (Note that in Mark 15:25, Jesus was crucified at “the third hour.”)
You can find a few references which portray Jesus as ‘ascending’ from the cross. Depending on the source, it could either be in a docetic way (either Jesus was spared death by being taken up bodily - it was but an illusion that was hanging on the cross - or the divine ‘Christ’ left its bodily shell, the human Jesus, to die while it ascended back to heaven) or as a metaphor for death / soul ascent (i.e. the soul leaving its body).
The Gospel of Peter in its description of Jesus’ death uses such ascension language (which does leave it open to a docetic interpretation):
Now it was noontime, and darkness held all Judaea fast, and they were troubled and agonized lest the sun had set while he was still alive. (It is written for them: ‘the sun must not set on one who has been murdered.’) And one of them said, “Give him gall with sour wine to drink.” And having mixed it, they gave it to drink: and they fulfilled all things and completed their sins on their own head. Now many, having went about with lamps (assuming that it was night), fell down. And the Lord shouted, saying: “My Power, O Power, you have abandoned me!” And having said this, he was taken up.
In the more docetic Acts of John, John flees the crucifixion to hide in the Mount of Olives, where Jesus - who was at the same time being crucified, or so it seemed to the people - appears to him to give him a special revelation:
And when he was hung upon the cross on Friday, at the sixth hour of the day, darkness came upon all the earth. And my Lord stood in the middle of the cave and lit it up, and said, “John, to the multitude down below in Jerusalem I am being crucified, and pierced with lances and reeds, and gall and vinegar is given me to drink. But to you I speak, and pay attention to what I say. I put it into your mind to come up to this mountain, so that you might hear matters needful for a disciple to learn from his teacher, and for a man to learn from his God.” …]
When he had spoken to me these things and others which I know not how to say as he would have me, he was taken up, without any of the multitude having seen him. And when I went down I laughed them all to scorn, inasmuch as he had told me the things which they have said about him.
A 5th century work called The Questions of Bartholomew (aka ‘Gospel of Bartholomew’) unambiguously describes a (temporary) physical disappearance of Jesus from the cross. The work chalks this disappearance (something which apparently only Bartholomew witnessed) up to His descent into hell (a la the Apostles’ Creed).
And Bartholomew said, “Lord, when you went to be hanged on the cross, I followed you afar off and saw you hung upon the cross, and the angels coming down from heaven and worshiping you. And when there came darkness, I looked and I saw that you vanished away from the cross, and I heard only a voice in the parts under the earth, and great wailing and gnashing of teeth all of a sudden. Tell me, Lord where did you go to from the cross?”
And Jesus answered and said, “Blessed are you, Bartholomew, my beloved, because you saw this mystery; and now I will tell you all things whatsoever you ask me. For when I vanished from the cross, then I went down into Hades that I might bring up Adam and all those who were with him, according to the supplication of Michael the archangel.”
Jesus continues describing how Hades personified and Beliar (= Belial, i.e. Satan) sensed His coming, and how He eventually managed to break into Hades, free all the righteous souls (binding Beliar for good measure) and then return to the cross.
You might notice that all three works share some similarities with the interpolation: the darkness tied in with an ‘ascension’/disappearance of Jesus, and a reference to angels descending (and ascending).