RE: [Allison-Seminar] The Hell of Thomas
- Dear Peter
Thanks for calling my attention to the slip on p. 25; obviously it is the Apocalypse of Peter, not the Gospel of Peter that I'm referring to there.
Your questions all concern Gos. Thom. 57, which I said may have to do with divine judgment. 1. Is the text about judgment? If not, why not? Well, it's a question of context, isn't it? If this text were in Matthew, we wouldn't hesitate to say that it's about the last judgment, right? But it's in Thomas, where interpretation is often very difficult, esp. for us nonThomas experts. I'm simply not sure what the meaning is in Thomas.
2. Your next question: If the passage is about divine judgment, what does that tell us about the
composition of the Gospel of Thomas and the beliefs of its composers? Is
there an explanation for its silence on the subject in the other sayings?
What does this tell us about Thomas if it's about judgment? Two possibilities. One is that Thomas is interpreting the text against its earlier sense. The other is that Thomas has a Gnostic eschatology into which this saying fits pretty well (the Gnostics certainly did have eschatological expectations--the regathering of the light, etc.). But the truth is, I don't know which option is correct because, as already indicated, I'm not sure what the meaning is.
3. Your next question: If the passage is not about divine judgment, what would the complete
silence of the Gospel of Thomas on the subject tell us about the doctrinal
development of early Christianity and perhaps even about Jesus?
My answer is: nothing about Jesus, except that there were those who wished to reinterpret or abandon the sort of eschatology Jesus advanced. Here Thomas is a bit like John.
4. Your next question: Is this passage dependent on the Gospel of Matthew? Gerd Luedemann
writes: "The logion has a close parallel in Matt. 13.24-30. Here Thomas 57
clearly presupposes the Matthaean version. First, the course of events is
told more succinctly and is to be understood as an abbreviation, for
secondly, there is no mention of the sowing of the seed (Matt. 13.24), the
process of growth (Matt. 13.30a), and especially the suggestion of the
servants that they should pull up the weeds immediately (Matt. 13.27),
although a remnant of that has been left, namely the owner's answer (v. 3).
In other words, this answer presupposes the conversation with the servants
(Matt. 13.27-28). Thomas twists the parable to see non-Gnostics and Gnostics
depicted in the weeds and in the good seed in order to emphasize the dualism
between the two. Thomas has preserved the reference to the harvest (v. 4) in
order to emphasize the lasting separation." (Jesus After 2000 Years, pp.
618-619) If this passage is based on Matthew, how does this affect your
discussion of the predominance of Hell Sayings in the Gospel of Matthew?
How does this passage relate to Matthew? I don't know whether Thomas at this point depends directly or indirectly upon Matthew. With Ludemann, I do believe, however, that Thomas' form is secondary and abbreviated. If instead of taking mpeprome koou ehole mpzizanion in the third line as a false passive--a possibility Ludemann doesn't mention--one rather understands the meaning to be, as in the translation you offer and I presume most others, The man did not allow them to pull up the weeds, then "them" has no antecedent and presupposes the servants of Matthew's gospel. Further, and in agreement with Gerd, the same line in Thomas also assumes both that the weeds have sprung up (cf. Mt 13:26) and that a request to pull them up has been made (cf. Mt 13:28). Thomas' brevity is more likely than not here not a sign of originality here but of secondary compression.
The upshot of this then is that Thomas 57 doesn't tell us about Jesus. For that we'll have to evaluate the parable in Matthew 13, which I won't do here; that'd take the rest of the day at least. At one time I thought the parable authentic. Don't know what I'd think if I were to revisit the question today. Nor do I know what meaning I'd give to it on Jesus' lips; looking back at what I wrote earlier in the ICC, I'm not convinced. Matthew's interpretation is secondary. It certainly could preserve the original sense, but I don't know whether it does or not. Luz, if I remember rightly, doesn't think that the parable goes back to Jesus but is rather a secondary Christian composition based upon Mark 4:26-29. Today I don't have an opinion.
Peter, one final comment on Thomas. As I said, as I worked through the commentary on Matthew and investigated all the Thomas parallels, sometimes I was convinced Thomas showed knowledge of Matthew; other times I thought not. My conclusion was that sometimes Thomas has early, independent versions of sayings but that it also, as often as not, knows the synoptics. Such a conclusion obviously makes it tough to work with this text, which I guess is from the early second century (but who really knows?). In any case, I've elsewhere given my reasons for thinking that it shouldn't be turned into a sort of key to recovering Jesus. I suspect that maybe some of our enthusiasm for it comes from it being a recent discovery. It's fascinating and important, and my main motivation for learning Coptic once upon a time was to due it justice; but I think I have done it justice, and I've still got a synoptic Jesus.