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Oral (pastoral) tradition versus written (national) tradition

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  • richfaussette
    Dear list members: I appreciate your patience and Dr. Shepherd s kind response. I had spoken of an addendum to my post on the formula (rubric) I constructed
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 8, 2012
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      Dear list members:

      I appreciate your patience and Dr. Shepherd's kind response. I had spoken of an addendum to my post on the formula (rubric) I constructed from Genesis and the Gospel of Thomas.
      Here is the formula reproduced below:


      Genesis 3: 6–8

      When Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil the "eyes of both of them were opened and they discovered that they were naked; so they stitched fig-leaves together and made themselves loincloths… and hid from the Lord God."

      + Self (open their eyes) = + shame (cover their nakedness) + fear (hide from God)

      The formula for the Fall as described in this passage is (+ self = + shame + fear).

      Here is the reverse from the Gospel of Thomas:

      Gospel of Thomas logion 37

      His disciples said, "When will you become revealed to us and when shall we see you?"

      Jesus said, "When you disrobe without being ashamed and take up your garments and place them under your feet like little children and tread on them, then [will you see] the son of the living one, and you will not be afraid."

      – Self (see the son) = – shame (without being ashamed) – fear (you will not be afraid).

      The formula for the Return as described in this passage is (– self = – shame – fear).


      I thought I might approach the issue from another tack.

      The structure of the Torah and Jeremiah 31 may provide an important clue as to the nature of the Gospel of Thomas in relation to Genesis and the synoptic gospels.

      First of all, when I say 'the structure of the Torah' I mean the structure of the Torah divided by its obvious functions; the establishment of a diaspora by pastoralists in Genesis versus the establishment of a nation in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It is not an arbitrary dichotomy. It exists in the text. Interestingly, it appears to be a loop, with nonsedentary diaspora life established by entering Egypt from Canaan and sedentary national life established by entering Canaan from Egypt.

      I suggest that this structure has a specific function and that each establishment (diaspora and nation) has its own theology.
      The theology of diaspora is oral tradition - "written on the heart" while the theology of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy is written tradition - written on stone tablets.

      In Genesis, Melchizedek, called high priest, has a compound name making him a "priest/king." Notice that Melchizedek is "undivided." Jesus describes himself as 'undivided' in the Gospel of Thomas and as his disciples having to be 'undivided' to get to the 'Kingdom.'

      The end product of Genesis is a successful diaspora established by Joseph. There is no priest, temple or written Law involved in the diaspora of Genesis. Genesis's pastoralist patriarchs memorize their oral traditions and so do not need a temple, priesthood or written law.

      Moving to Jeremiah 31:31; as the temple, nation and corrupt priesthood are destroyed by the Babylonians, God promises Jeremiah that a day will come when:

      "I will make a new covenant with Israel and Judah... I will set my Law within them and write it on their hearts... no longer need they teach one another to know the Lord."

      As the nation of Israel and its institutions are being destroyed, God (quite reasonably) promotes the memorization of the oral tradition of the diaspora pastoralists of Genesis (whose Law is written on the heart) at the very time that they are being dispersed into diaspora; in other words when it would be most advantageous to have the law written on one's heart; when the written Law and its priesthood are destroyed and you are forced into diaspora.

      The synoptics are also written at a time when the temple and nation of Israel are destroyed and the people are again dispersed. Jesus also preaches the 'new covenant' of Jeremiah. Paul writes (2 Cor. 3:1-3) that the Law is "written on the heart." Here the synoptics function like the written Law of Moses while it is left to Paul to flesh out the Law written on the heart and to the Gospel of Thomas to teach the discipline of 'gnosis.'

      The synoptic gospels function for the Roman destruction the same way Jeremiah did for the Babylonian destruction. They both point the people toward the diaspora theology of Genesis in which there is no temple, priesthood or written law because that is what is happening; the temple, nation and priesthood are being destroyed and the people are being dispersed into diaspora.

      In each case, the people are dispersed in a diaspora and they are told they can survive by internalizing the formerly written law and absent priesthood.

      Conversely, Moses had established the nation by "dividing" Melchizedek's two functions (priest/king) between two men: Aaron the priest and Joshua the warrior and writing the Law on stone tablets.

      We can see a distinction between the oral tradition of Genesis's non-sedentary pastoralists on the one hand and the appearance of a priesthood, an army and a written law in the Mosaic Torah of sedentary nationalists on the other.

      The Gospel of Thomas talks of hidden things that you have to find. What do Jewish religious intellectuals say about the hidden things of Genesis?

      Adolphe Franck in The Kabbalah, the Religious Philosophy of the Hebrews (Bell Publishing, NY, p.15) quotes the Mishna (Haggiga, sec.2):

      "...The story of Genesis (Creation) is not to be explained to two men, the story of the Merkaba (Heavenly chariot) not even to one, unless he can be wise and can deduce wisdom of his own accord."

      If Genesis is the theology of oral tradition; the 'undivided,' in which men are priest/kings, the Mishna would appear to suggest that what is hidden there should only be approached by men who have the spiritual knowledge to apprehend it.

      Now go to the opening lines of the Gospel of Thomas.

      "These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke. And Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down. And he said, "whoever finds the meaning of these words will not taste death."

      The words are deliberately "hidden" and you have to "find" their meaning.
      As you move from the establishment of a diaspora in Genesis to the establishment of a nation in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy the theology changes from one that is hidden and can be apprehended only by studied wisdom to one that is public and taught from a written Law by a hereditary line of priests. Consider Paul's lengthy comparison of Melchizedek with the Levitical succession in the Book of Hebrews with a focus on 7:11-13 and 28:

      "Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for it is on this basis that the people were given the Law), what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising in the succession of Melchizedek instead of the succession of Aaron? For a change of priesthood must mean a change of law... the high priests made by the Law are men in all their frailty; but the priest appointed by the words of the oath which supercedes the Law is the Son, made perfect now and forever."

      The succesion of Melchizedek employs the oral tradition of Genesis.
      The succession of Aaron employs the Mosaic written tradition.

      Why does Christianity reject a 'public' Gnosticism and why is it 'hidden' in Genesis and the Gospel of Thomas?

      Constantine established a religion for an empire. He appointed a hierarchy of priests to teach a single written theology that served the state. Constantine could not allow religious leaders to emerge spontaneously by virtue of their "studied wisdom" as rabbinical Judaism and Gnosticism's discipleships do.

      Once we recognize that the theology of Genesis is one of the oral tradition of priest/kings we must explore the possibility that the Gospel of Thomas aims to teach that "hidden" theology of Genesis that is 'written on the heart.'

      In Logion 13, Thomas does not tell the disciples what Jesus has told him. He hides what Jesus has told him. "If I tell you one of the words he said to me, you will pick up stones and thow them at me, and fire will come out of the stones and burn you up."

      The idea that hidden knowledge can be dangerous for those not prepared for it is also discussed by Adolphe Franck. He quotes the Talmud:

      "The teachers taught. Four entered the Garden of Delight, namely: ben Azai, ben Zoma, Aher and R. Akiba. Ben Azai looked around and died. Ben Zoma also looked around and lost his reason. Aher made ravages in the plantations. Akiba entered in peace and came out in peace."
      Babylonian Talmud Hagigah 14b, Jerusalem Talmud Hagigah 2:1

      The idea of a secret knowledge is also mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12: 1-5 where Paul talks of a secret that no human lips should repeat leaving us with the impression that the secret must be apprehended personally as it cannot be communicated from one person to another.

      The esoteric oral tradition of Genesis which is written on the heart is hidden and seemingly abandoned in the Torah when Moses establishes a nation, creating a priestly and a military class and writing the Law on stone tablets.

      On the other hand, The exoteric tradition of the synoptics is allegorized then textualized to function like the Mosiac Law for the wider organized communities of the early Church and later adopted by the Roman Empire just as the written Law of Moses was created in the Torah for the establishment of the nation of Israel.

      Theologically, the gnostic Gospel of Thomas with its spiritual resurrection corresponds to the hidden knowledge of Genesis. The synoptic gospels of exoteric written tradition of a physical resurrection correspond to the Law written on stone tablets in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It is the same structure: the discipline of oral tradition and spiritual resurrection for the chosen few (the 'gnostics' and the non-sedentary pastoralists) and the tablets of written Law for the entire nation of Israel (the sedentary nationalists who comprise a large population of ordinary men) corresponding to the synoptic gospels and its physical resurrection later appropriated by the Roman Empire for their Christianity.

      The hidden knowledge of the Gospel of Thomas is not encouraged by Rome or early church leaders because it is not easily apprehensible by the general audience. Its leaders cannot be appointed because they arise spontaneously through their studied wisdom.
      The sayings of the Gospel of Thomas are collected from oral tradition by a disciple(s) for limited circulation.
      The Gospel of Thomas, despite the many suggestions that it is a product of Hellenic 'mystery religions,' is certainly the continuation of an existing pre-Pauline pre-Jesus discipline to which the very structure and function of the Torah, Jeremiah, the Talmud, Jesus and Paul all refer.

      The Gospel of Thomas teaches the hidden oral tradition of Melchizedek that is written on the heart by diaspora pastoralists.

      The synoptic gospels with their Church, empire amd priestly hierarchy reflect the national tradition of Moses written on stone tablets and scrolls.

      The Gospel of Thomas's Logion 51 does indeed mention the resurrection of the dead of the synoptic gospels but indicates that it is in a form in which the disciples cannot recognize it - I would think that is the hidden knowledge - the gnosis... of Genesis. What else could it be?

      I constructed the formula of the Fall and the Return from the Fall from the words of Genesis and the words of the Gospel of Thomas.

      – Self (see the son) = – shame (without being ashamed) – fear (you will not be afraid)
      + Self (open their eyes) = + shame (cover their nakedness) + fear (hide from God)

      If you've taxed yourself to read this entire post and found nothing of relevance here, please accept my humble apology. I appreciate your time.

      Rich Faussette
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