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Re: [XTalk] A Tyrian Tradition Concerning Solomon and Hiram and the Introduction to GTh

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  • Frank McCoy
    Let us look at the beginning of GTh, These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down. And he said,
    Message 1 of 2 , Aug 19, 2002
      Let us look at the beginning of GTh, "These are the
      secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which
      Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down. And he said,
      'Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings
      will not experience death.'"

      As respects this passage, Ray Summers, in the Secret
      Sayings of the Living Jesus (p. 19), states, "The
      expression 'secret words' indicates the Gnostic
      emphasis--these words have 'secret' or 'hidden'
      meaning which may be known only by the one who
      possesses the 'gnosis,' knowledge."

      However, that, this introduction claims, the sayings
      of Jesus have a secretive hidden meaning does not
      necessarily mean that it has a Gnostic emphasis.

      Rather, it might be an indication that the Sitz im
      Leben for GTh is Tyre.

      In Against Apion (Book I, Sect. 18), Josephus thusly
      quotes from a work, by Dius, titled Phoenician
      History, "They say, further, that Solomon, when he
      was king of Jerusalem, sent problems to Hiram (the
      King of Tyre) to be solved, and desired he would send
      others back to him to solve, and that he who could not
      solve the problems proposed to him should pay money to
      him that solved them. And when Hiram had agreed to
      the proposals, but was not able to solve the problems,
      he was obliged to pay a great deal of money, as a
      penalty for the same. As also they relate, that one
      Abdemon, a man of Tyre, did solve the problems, and
      propose others which Solomon could not solve, upon
      which he was obliged to repay a great deal of money to

      This is interesting. There was a tradition that
      Solomon and Hiram corresponded with each other,
      sending each other "problems". Further, they made
      bets over who would be better at "solving" these
      "problems". Initially, Solomon had the upper hand and
      Hiram had to pay him a lot of money. However, later, a
      Tyrian, named Abdemon, not only managed to "solve"
      the "problems" posed by Solomon, but also managed to
      propose new "problems" that Solomon could not solve.
      Admitting defeat, Solomon re-payed much of the money
      back to Hiram.

      This tradition clearly is not a Jewish tradition--for
      it ends up with a Tyrian demonstrating a wisdom
      superior to that of Solomon. Rather, it would appear,
      this is a Tyrian tradition.

      Indeed, Josephus (Ibid.) admits as much, saying this
      about Solomon and Hiram, "But there was another
      passion, a philosophic inclination of theirs, which
      cemented the friendship that was betwixt them; for
      they sent mutual problems to one another, with a
      desire to have them unriddled by each other; wherein
      Solomon was superior to Hiram, as he was wiser than he
      in other respects: and many of the epistles that
      passed between them are still preserved by the

      Note that Josephus only mentions how Solomon bested
      Hiram, deliberately overlooking Solomon's later defeat
      by Abdemon.

      Besides this, note that, Josephus states, copies of
      the correspondence between Solomon and Hiram were
      circulating in Tyre. This confirms that we are
      dealing with a Tyrian tradition--complete with alleged
      copies of the actual correspondence. I use the word
      "alleged" because, almost certainly, these were forged

      In this statement by Josephus, we learn something new
      about the "problems" that Solomon and Hiram sent to
      one another. That is, the way to "solve" these
      "problems" is to "unriddle" them.

      These tells us that these "problems" are sayings with
      meanings that are not obvious but which, if one is
      wise or clever enough, can be determined.

      Indeed, this is confirmed by Josephus, who states in
      Antiquities (Book VIII, Chapt. 5, Sect.3), "Moreover,
      the king of Tyre sent sophisms and enigmatical sayings
      to Solomon, and desired he would solve them, and free
      them from the ambiguity that was in them. Now so
      sagacious and understanding was Solomon, that none of
      these problems were too hard for him; and he conquered
      them all by his reasonings and discovered their hidden
      meaning, and brought it to light."

      Note that Josephus, again, overlooks the later defeat
      of Solomon, only mentioning his initial victory over

      More importantly, we learn, these "problems", that
      need to be "unriddled", are, actually, "sophisms and
      enigmatical sayings" full of "ambiguity" and with
      "hidden" meanings that need to be brought "to light".
      Further, they are brought "to light" by one who is
      "sagacious and understanding" and uses "his
      reasonings". That is to say, they are brought "to
      light" by the sage/wise man.

      As a result, in first century CE Tyre, there were
      copies of alleged correspondence between Hiram and
      Solomon: which correspondence consisted of sophisms
      and enigmatic sayings full of ambiguity and with
      hidden meanings that can be uncovered by one who is a
      sage/wise man. Further, since Abdemon and Solomon,
      each such a sage/wise man, also created such sophisms
      and enigmatic sayings, it is the sage/wise man who
      also creates such sophisms and enigmatic sayings.

      This tells us something about the concept of the
      sage/wise man in first century CE Tyre. For a first
      century CE Tyrian, a sage/wise person speaks sophisms
      and enigmatic sayings full of ambiguity and with
      hidden meanings. Further, such a sage/wise person can
      properly interpret the sophisms and enigmatic sayings
      said by another sage/wise man.

      In light of this, let us re-look at the introduction
      to GTh, "These are the secret sayings which the living
      Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.
      And he said, 'Whoever finds the interpretation of
      these sayings will not experience death."

      In this introduction, I suggest, Jesus is portrayed as
      being such a sage/wise man: with his "secret sayings",
      then, consisting of the sophisms and enigmatical
      sayings that are uttered by such a sage/wise man and
      that are deliberately ambiguous and have hidden

      Indeed, doesn't this sound like a description of many,
      perhaps even all, of the sayings attributed to Jesus
      in GTh? Do not these sayings make GTh, basically, a
      colllection of sophisms and enigmatical sayings full
      ambiguity and with hidden meanings begging to be

      In this introduction, I further suggest, the person
      who will not experience death is also such a sage/wise
      man: which explains why such a person can properly
      interpret the sayings spoken by another sage/wise man,
      i.e., Jesus.

      In this case, then, as both Jesus and the person who
      can properly interpret his sayings are sages/wise men
      *as understood in first century CE Tyre*, this makes
      it likely that the Thomas church was located at Tyre.

      Further, such a sage/wise man is not a Gnostic: for
      the essential core of a Gnostic is the possession of
      gnosis (knowledge), while the essential core for the
      Tyrian version of a sage/wise man is being "sagacious
      and understanding". Knowledge alone cannot enable one
      to properly interpret the sayings of Jesus. Rather,
      one needs sagacity and understanding to do this.

      There is a wrinkle to the Tyrian tradition concerning
      Hiram, Solomon, and Abdemon that adds further support
      to the hypothesis that the Thomas church was located
      at Tyre.

      In the above cited section of Antiquities, Josephus
      thusly quotes Menander the Ephesian, "Under this king
      (i.e., Hiram) there was Abdemon, a very youth in age,
      who always conquered the difficult problems which
      Solomon, king of Jerusalem, commanded him to explain."

      Note that, here, Solomon is called "the King of
      Jerusalem". This is also done by Dius in the above
      cited quote from him. This tells us that, outside
      of Jewish circles, Solomon was understood to have been
      the ruler of a city-state, i.e., Jerusalem. This
      raises the question of whether the concept of Solomon
      having a great empire was a Jewish invention, with
      actually, only ruling Jerusalem and near-by regions.

      More importantly, also note that, we learn here, the
      Abdemon who, according to this Tyrian tradition, had
      defeated Solomon, had been *a very youth in age*.

      This gives the tradition a David and Goliath motif:
      with the Tyrian youngster still wet behind the ears
      defeating the much older and renowned Jewish sage/wise
      man who had defeated even the Tyrian king.

      Over and beyond that, it brings together a linkage
      between youth and being the ideal sage/wise man. In a
      dramatic reversal of what is expected, the greatest
      wisdom turned out to lie not with the man advanced in
      years, but with a youth.

      So, in first century CE Tyre, when thinking of the
      ideal sage/wise man, the first image that came to mind
      was that of a youth.

      Compare GTh 4, "The man old in days will not hesitate
      to ask a small child seven days old about the place of
      life, and he will live.", and 46b, "Yet I have said,
      whichever one of comes to be a child, will be
      acquainted with the Kingdom ( = Wisdom?) and will
      become superior to John."

      Here, I suggest, we find this image of an ideal
      sage/wise man as a youth in an exaggerated form, i.e.,
      in the image of an ideal sage/wise man as a babe or

      That the image of the ideal sage/wise man as a youth,
      which is peculiar (as far as I know) to first century
      CE Tyre, is found, in an exaggerated form, in GTh is a
      good indication that the Thomas church was located at
      first century CE Tyre.

      Frank McCoy
      1809 N. English Apt. 17
      Maplewood, MN USA 55109

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