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Re: [GTh] Christological Peculiarities

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: GThomas Cc: Synoptic, GPG In Response To: Rick Hubbard On: Thomas and Early Christology From: Bruce Rick s thoughtful question intersects with some work I
    Message 1 of 36 , Sep 26, 2010
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      To: GThomas
      Cc: Synoptic, GPG
      In Response To: Rick Hubbard
      On: Thomas and Early Christology
      From: Bruce

      Rick's thoughtful question intersects with some work I have been doing
      on the NT at large. Sorry to present a summary rather than a detailed
      account of how I reach it, but the latter would be very long. Here,
      for what it may be worth, is a response from that point of view. The
      essence of it is that there were from the beginning many
      Christologies, or to put it perhaps more usefully, several
      soteriologies. They represent the different ways that Jesus's former
      followers solved the problem presented by his unexpected death. I have
      found it useful to divide these into two main types:

      (1) Alpha, which continued the lifetime teaching of the Historical
      Jesus about salvation through repentance by the individual and
      forgiveness by God, and though envisioning Jesus as enshrined in
      Heaven, and in most variants as destined to return to judge the world
      in the Last Days (some more conservative variants still retained the
      idea of God as the Last Judge, which Jesus himself had presumably
      taught), not regarding Jesus himself as material to salvation.
      Salvation in this view is from God's mercy, and is based on avoiding
      sins and as doing good works, according to the Law (or its Second
      Table, which is the only part of it that Jesus is reported as directly
      affirming). This group of beliefs is also conservative in reinstating
      Johannine baptism essentially in its original meaning: a symbol of the
      purification of the individual through his repentance and the receipt
      of God's forgiveness, and thus, at least at that moment, a effectively

      (2) Beta, which rejects everything Jesus did or said in his lifetime,
      and focuses exclusively on his death, which is seen as vicariously
      atoning for all sins, everywhere. This is the Suffering Servant
      paradigm, based on the readiness of Abraham (the true Jewish
      patriarch) to sacrifice his beloved son, and from certain passages in
      Isaiah. Salvation, in the Beta view, is simply from belief in the fact
      of Jesus's atoning death. Like Alpha, Beta occurs in many varieties.
      One of them sees baptism not as symbolic of purification (the "water"
      concept of baptism), but as symbolic of participation in Jesus's death
      and resurrection (the "blood" concept of baptism, found in Paul).

      There will be a special session on Alpha Christianity at SBL this
      November. Participants will have access to an otherwise unlinked web
      page. For any who may be interested in contributing to the discussion,
      either before or after SBL, I will give that URL here, though with the
      wish that it not be widely shared. It is:


      I mention this because it contains more detail than it is practical to
      give here. With that background,

      RICK: One of the widely recognized characteristics of the Gospel of
      Thomas is the
      absence of the so-called "developed Christology" that permeates the NT canon.

      BRUCE: The divinization of Jesus proceeds steadily through the
      Gospels, in the order Mk > Mt > Lk/Ac > Jn. By "high Christology"
      people seem to mean views at the late end of that scale, such as the
      pre-existent Jesus of the Gospel of John. There are also expressions
      of a "lower" Christology in the NT. And there are some NT texts,
      notoriously (Luther was offended by it) the Epistle of James, which
      says nothing whatever about Jesus's, and for that matter, apart from a
      two decorative interpolations, never mentions Jesus at all. It
      discusses how Alpha communities can conduct themselves. It also
      ridicules the Beta idea that salvation can be gained by faith alone,
      without DOING something. In my terms, this text was written for the
      guidance of Alpha communities who had been exposed to Beta preaching
      (not necessarily by Paul, there were others; but by somebody).

      As for the Christology of Thomas, I should have thought it was of a
      cosmological sort, identifying Jesus with a model of the universe
      whose hazards only knowledge of him (not quite the same as mere faith
      in him) will enable the individual to negotiate. To me this fits into
      the above scheme as a post-Beta view of Jesus.

      RICK: This, some have argued, is evidence of the presence of very
      early Jesus tradition in the [Thomas] saying collection. The
      assumption behind such arguments, as near as I can tell, is that
      developed Christologies emerged (or began to emerge) several decades
      following Jesus' execution. Therefore, one could say, since there is
      no developed Christology in Thomas, indeed virtually no reference at
      all the passion-death-resurrection cycle, ipso facto the Gospel of
      Thomas is "early."

      BRUCE: Besides Alpha and Beta, I have been led to conclude that there
      was a third basic view of Jesus, namely Gamma (or gnosis), which sees
      salvation as due not to the kind of works that Jesus enjoined (Alpha)
      or to belief in the meaning of his death (Beta), but to knowledge of
      Jesus himself, and of the cosmology in which he had salvific meaning.
      Gamma is necessarily an esoteric form of Christianity, though it
      definitely IS a form of Christianity. As with Alpha and Beta, there
      are many varieties of Gamma, some ascetic and some libertarian, and
      with a considerable range of cosmological constructs. Gamma ideas seem
      to be present, in some form, in the later NT texts. The
      Colossians/Ephesians group, as I understand it, represents the
      intrusion of Gamma ideas into the Paul tradition, and though gJn has
      been analyzed as anti-Gnostic; I think it more likely that it is a
      late Beta Christian text whose worldview has been considerably shaped
      by Gnostic predilections. If so, then the absence of Beta
      prescriptions in Thomas does not of itself prove early date; Gamma may
      be a further development of Beta. Since Beta demonstrably existed
      early (Paul was converted to it not later than the year 37), that
      still leaves considerable room for a date in the early middle 1c; we
      do not have to assign everything with Gamma features to the end of the
      1c or beyond. For my own view of the date of Thomasine Gnosticism,
      which is not the only possible kind, see below.

      RICK: But here's something that really puzzles me. Most handbooks and
      commentaries I have read concede that the earliest writings in the NT
      canon are the Pauline letters and those (which are indisputably
      Pauline) are to be dated 50-ish. That means Paul was writing roughly
      20-25 years after the crucifixion. In these letters it is abundantly
      clear that there is indeed a set of emerging Christologies (notice the

      BRUCE: It seems to be correct (following Knox and a few others) that
      the earliest extant Paul writings are from the 50s. This does not make
      them the earliest NT documents, since the Little Apocalypse in Mark
      (Mk 13, itself somewhat late within Mark) must be dated (with Torrey,
      though not necessarily accepting Torrey's translation scenario) to the
      summer of the year 40, when the defilement of the Temple in Jerusalem
      (there were also riots in Alexandria about the same threat) was
      impending, on order of Caligula. Caligula died in early 41, so it
      would not have been attractive to a Christian prophet to write this
      chapter after that time (when the prediction had been shown to be
      unfulfilled). Matthew preserves these "desecration" ideas intact, and
      was thus itself probably earlier than 70. Only Luke (see Kloppenborg's
      rather recent JBL article) shows unmistakably the presence of
      besieging armies at Jerusalem, and requires the assumption of
      knowledge of the campaign of Titus. It was thus either written or
      revised after 70.

      The idea that it occurred to no one to ask what Jesus's teaching and
      career had been like, until more than 40 years (two generations) after
      his death, held by Bultmann and many others, never had much inherent
      psychological probablity, and I cannot but think that it is refuted by
      the reference in Mark, and its tacit continuation in Matthew. Only
      Luke, of the first or second tier Gospels, and probably only Luke in
      its last compositional stage (for these stages, see my SBL
      presentation of 2008), was unmistakably written after 70.

      RICK: Some folks attribute the Christological language in the epistles
      to Paul's own theological hypothesizing, . . .

      BRUCE: He probably developed the thing he was converted to, namely
      Beta, but it is doubtful that he invented it. Beta existed before
      Paul. Paul was a big fish in the early Christian scene, but not the
      whole ocean.

      RICK: . . . but even so it is fairly widely conceded that certain
      elements in Paul's letters are evidence of "Christological hymns" that
      Paul appropriated from elsewhere. In other words there were some
      elements of an esoteric Christology even prior to Paul (examples below).

      BRUCE: These embedded hymns are undoubtedly important. They were
      evidently in liturgical use (meaning, fixed in the understanding of
      certain early Christian communities) before Paul made contact with the
      respective communities. Some of them are unmistakably Beta, with which
      of course Paul would have been comfortable. Others are open to
      interpretation as Alpha, and here we have (as I see it) Paul's
      adaptability, a trait which he himself proclaims, to various forms of
      prior belief, from Jewish to Pagan, and certainly including the span
      of Christian belief as it had existed just previously. Paul likes to
      establish common ground with people he is about to exhort, and he
      often does just this at the beginnings of his letters. So his quoting
      of an Alpha hymn doesn't limit Paul himself to Alpha preaching, quite
      the contrary. It is just an opening gesture to establish the
      possibility of discourse.

      RICK: This seems to raise two questions; First, and more generally, how in the
      world, in the space of two decades or so following the death of Jesus,
      did there emerge **this** "confession" embedded in Romans 1:3b-4a
      (reconstructed as follows by Georg Strecker (_Theology of the New
      Testament_. DeGruyter: 2000, p66-74)?

      Jesus [Christ]
      Descended from David
      Declared the Son of God with power by resurrection from the dead.

      BRUCE: This Davidic Jesus is common in the NT, but occurs only here in
      Paul. Again, Paul admits common ground with his Davidically inclined
      (that is Jewish-nationalistically inclined) readers, but goes on, in
      the course of Romans, to argue against the views that usually
      accompany the Davidic Jesus (see the concordance, under David, for the
      arguments against David in the rest of Romans). We have to take in the
      whole of Romans to see all of Paul's strategy of persuasion.

      RICK: An even more developed example includes Philippians 2:6-7, 9-11
      is no less
      puzzling for the same reason:

      In the form of God, (but) not equal with God;
      (Who) emptied himself (EAUTON EKENWSIN) taking the form of a slave;
      Born in human likeness, in that form humbled himself;

      Exalted by God and given a name above every other name
      at whose name every knee should bend on earth, under the earth and in heaven;
      Every tongue should confess Jesus Christ is Lord.

      BRUCE: This is the pre-existent Jesus, but it is not necessarily the
      Beta or vicarious atonement Jesus. The Alpha people may have
      participated in the tendency to exalt Jesus, and to emphasize the
      humility of his life and mission on earth, without attributing
      salvation to his death. See inter alia the article by Fitzmyer,
      reprinted in his collection To Advance the Gospel (or something
      similar; cited from memory).

      RICK: Compare the above with yet another allegedly pre-Pauline formula
      (I Corinthians 15: 3b-4b, 5a):

      Christ died for our sins
      According to the scriptures
      He was buried
      He was raised
      He appeared to Cephas.

      BRUCE: You have left off the last part, which is indeed disputed. It
      is also disputed that even this much was an actual credal formula,
      though it certainly resonates with our own Nicene sensibilities. In
      any case, whether a formula or simply a summary of presumed common
      tradition, it is unmistakably Beta. Notice that like Paul himself (and
      for that matter, like the Nicene Creed, with the sole exception of an
      assertion of Jesus's divine birth), it resolutely excludes from
      consideration everything about Jesus's life, and focuses exclusively
      on the salfivic meaning of Jesus's death. That concept, in turn, is
      more than familiar to moderns; it is part of our inner mental
      furnishings; bone and breath. This makes it hard to see that any other
      view of Jesus was ever possible. But on the evidence of the texts
      (including Mark, whose later Beta layers argue rather stridently
      against the earlier, essentially Alpha, view of Jesus contained in the
      earlier layers), it seems that this nevertheless did happen. Hard or
      not hard, as investigators of the past we have to pay attention to
      what the texts of the past seem to be up to.

      There would not be so much argument, not only in Paul but in tracts
      like 1 John, against a non-Beta view of Jesus, unless those views not
      only existed, but were persuasive for communities or large segments of
      mixed Christian communities, well into the 1c. That these non-Beta
      views eventually lost the orthodoxy argument is obvious. That they
      never existed is, to me and to Lohmeyer, an untenable assumption.

      RICK: The second question that comes to my mind is this: Given the
      very nature of
      the above formulae, I can't imagine that they would have gone
      unnoticed, or that they weren't repeated everywhere the Jesus
      traditions(s) circulated.

      BRUCE: Here, I can only suggest exercising the imagination. What we
      20c persons can or cannot readily imagine is not really evidence for
      the 1c. I would particularly caution against the view (sometimes
      expressed, but not to me convincingly) that as soon as one Jesus
      movement leader commits an idea to paper for his own circle of
      converts, everyone throughout the Mediterranean world is immediately
      aware of it. That to me is simply a retrojection of our modern
      experience of "publication," and is contradicted by the evidence of
      mutual knowledge, or lack of it, between many early Christian texts,
      both canonical and noncanonical. To take a term from Lightfoot,
      "locality" is important in understanding the early Christian belief
      situation. Not only would writings for or to a church tend to be
      restricted to that church, at least for a certain period, but there
      are clearly defined traditions of transmission and prior awareness,
      such as the Gospel tradition (for all its internal variations), the
      Petrine tradition, the Pauline tradition, the Johannine tradition, and
      to step outside the NT canon for a moment, the Apostolic tradition,
      and yes, the Gnostic tradition or cluster of traditions. Communication
      was very likely better within one of these strands than between it and
      the next one, quite apart from any geographical factors.

      I cannot but think that it is a mistake to presume a unitary First
      Christianity, from which all variants are late and detestable
      heresies. Equally, it seems to be also a mistake to presume a single
      "church" in any sense, until well into the 1c. As I read the evidence,
      the suppression or at least the outshouting of such views of Jesus as
      the Alpha Christology goes chronologically hand in hand with the
      assertion of greater doctrinal control both within a single
      congregation or aggregate of municipal congragations (the appearance
      of bishops) and among more than one such congregation (a tendency of
      which 1 Clement, I think rightly, is seen as an early and hesitant

      As to communication (chiefly contentious) between separate strands of
      Jesus tradition, we do see 2 Peter arguing against Paul (though in a
      reconciliating sort of way), and James arguing against the idea of
      justification by faith, and 1 John arguing . . . But these are not
      shared traditions so much as evidence of separate traditions at war
      with each other.

      1 John is doubtless from late in the 1c, and the impression we get
      from the evidently realted 1-3 John taken together is unimstakably
      that of previously compatible Alpha/Beta mixed congregations breaking
      down and separating. I think Kasemann is quite right in seeing 3 John
      as written not from the point of view of the victors (for which see
      1-2 John), but from that of the expelled or separating Alpha party. It
      has been noticed, though its implications have been ignored, that 3
      John, unlike 1-2 John, contain no [Beta] Christology. Precisely. These
      are the Alpha losers, who either left (the Beta view) or were kicked
      out of (the Alpha view, with a named villain) the previously mixed
      congregation. The only hint of Jesus in 3 John is the approval of
      wandering preachers who preach according to "the name." They are thus
      nominally followers of Jesus, but with a view of Jesus which did not
      include the Atonement or "blood" doctrine, and which had come to be
      unacceptable to the Christian majority. For the views of that
      majority, see 2 John and the adversative parts of 1 John. Or of course

      RICK: So, if Thomas is early, why aren't there at least vestiges of
      this material that was known to Paul? Or, conversely, if Thomas is
      late (and if it is dependent on the synoptics, as well) why is there
      absolutely no evidence of these confessional elements (much less the
      more "robust" later versions)? At a minimum, would not one think that
      there would be at least some polemic against these Christological
      appellations if they were known and if the Thomas-ites understood
      themselves to be extraposed to this understanding of Jesus?

      BRUCE: Many of us see many of the Thomas sayings as Synoptically
      derivative. If so, then the whole stance of that text (and never mind
      for a moment the situation of other Gnostic texts) is implicitly an
      argument with the original meaning of the related sayings in their
      original Gospel context. Here, then, is the seemingly missing
      controversy. As for anti-Gnostic statements in the Gospel tradition,
      at lesat some of them have been competently identified by the
      commentators. They tend, I recollect rightly, to be in the latter
      part of the 1c.

      As to the Paul connection, or lack of it, unless we see Thomas as
      stratified (a topic which I gather is now forbidden on this list, so
      this must be my last paragraph), then the whole of it must have a
      single date, and given Luke among the more convincing of the sources
      of a Thomas saying (see again Goodacre), that date must be post-gLk.
      The final form of gLk (see above, but this is also the common
      understanding) is post-70. Then if gThos is itself a post-70 creation,
      there is no wonder why Paul (died c62) does not mention it, let alone
      controvert it.


      I offer the above conclusions as tending to be consistent with each
      other, and as putting in a slightly more intelligible light some of
      the contradictions and perplexities which, as Rick rightly notes, come
      as part of the package of conventional dates and attributions of the
      canonical texts. I think those dates and attributions are now up for
      serious reconsideration, de novo, on a wider textual basis than was
      common in the 19c, and this is the enterprise in which, in moments
      stolen from my proper work elsewhere (parerga), I am presently engaged.

      It may be fair to add that some of these issues, and particularly the
      Alpha/Beta contrast, will be coming up at SBL in my two papers there,
      one on the Epistle of Jude and the other on the historical situation
      of the Twelve. Those convenient to Atlanta, in the weekend before
      Thanksgiving, are encouraged to attend those sessions (dates, times,
      and room numbers are now available on the SBL website). Those
      interested, whether or not able to attend, are welcome to submit
      comments or responses at the Alpha Christianity page, whose URL is
      given above. From that page, for any who may be in doubt about the
      directionality between Jude and 2 Peter, I might venture to commend my
      parallel presentation of the entire contents of both texts.

      Respectfully submitted,


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
    • Ronald Price
      ... Jeff, What I m trying to say here is that one can accept a hero who has minor flaws, such as the earnest but fallible Peter who emerges from a casual
      Message 36 of 36 , Oct 3, 2010
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        Jeff Peterson wrote:

        > ..... Your "ordinary follower of Jesus" would
        > have found it just as difficult to believe that while the Pillars didn't
        > understand how followers of Jesus should conduct themselves at table, Paul
        > did;


        What I'm trying to say here is that one can accept a hero who has minor
        flaws, such as the earnest but fallible Peter who emerges from a casual
        reading of the gospel of Mark. But a follower of Jesus can't accept a hero
        who is fundamentally on the wrong track christologically. So Paul could not
        have portrayed Peter in this way without upsetting many of his Galatian

        > I think the reality described by 1:11 is more complex than Paul having had a
        > visionary experience which included a command to "Preach this," with a list
        > of propositions appended. Rather, as persecutor he had already heard what
        > Jesus' followers were proclaiming about him (viz., the crucified Messiah had
        > been raised and enthroned with God, inaugurating the age of deliverance
        > promised in Scripture) .....

        James and Peter were expecting the kingdom of God to come with power
        (Mk 9:1, derived from logia saying C12), i.e. the overthrow of the Roman
        occupiers and the establishment of God's kingdom on earth. This clearly
        hadn't happened when Paul came on the scene. Paul's supporter, Mark, had to
        replace the hopes of the original disciples for the establishment of a new
        Israel (saying C21, c.f. Mt 19:28) with a reward in the life to come (Mk
        10:29-30). This echoed Paul's promise of eternal life (e.g. Rom 6:22-23).
        The idea that the kingdom had been inaugurated by the coming of Jesus arose
        after the deaths of the original disciples when it began to look as if the
        return of Jesus was delayed and might be delayed a lot longer.

        > Your last sentence [regarding the ability or otherwise of the Galatians to
        > check Paul's claims] neglects the extent of travel in the early Empire, and
        > the use made of this mobility to connect early Christian communities;
        > ..... We know that Paul organized Corinthians and Macedonians for an
        > embassy to Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:3–4; 2 Cor 9:4),

        Travel was indeed facilitated by the Pax Romana, and also by the widespread
        Roman roads. But it was still slow. Your example above concerns a journey
        which Paul regarded as most important. Travelling several days merely to
        check on the truthfulness or otherwise of Paul's assertions in Galatians
        would have been a lot less palatable.

        > It was very shortsighted of Paul to maintain that he and the Pillars agreed
        > on the gospel if contact with their followers was a real possibility for his
        > converts, and if the reaction of a Jerusalem Christian to an acclamation
        > like "Praise be to the God and Father of our crucified Messiah Jesus, who
        > raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand" would have been,
        > "Come again?"

        But as I indicated earlier in this thread, I don't think Paul claimed that
        the pillars agreed on the gospel.

        > ..... Peter and the
        > other disciples are depicted as uncomprehending regarding Jesus' impending
        > death and resurrection during his ministry, but their eventual enlightenment
        > and proclamation of these events is clearly anticipated (9:9; 13:9–13; 14:9,
        > 27–28; 16:7).

        I don't see 9:9 or 14:9 as indicating eventual enlightenment.
        As for 14:28 and 16:7, I take these verses as early interpolations designed
        to rehabilitate Peter. They are quite inconsistent with the rest of the

        > In historical terms, once Jesus is executed, a Christology like that
        > ascribed to Peter in 8:27–33 becomes untenable .....

        I agree. But my understanding of what transpired is that James, Peter et al.
        changed to a 'Son of Man' christology (see my reconstruction of the logia),
        Paul faced up to the inconsistency by glorying in the crucifixion (e.g. 1
        Cor 1:23 : "we proclaim Christ crucified"), but playing down the belief in
        Jesus as messiah by (for the most part) using "Christ" merely as a sort of

        Ron Price

        Derbyshire, UK

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