Re: [XTalk] A Tyrian Tradition Concerning Solomon and Hiram and the Introduction to GTh
- 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
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,
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
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.
1809 N. English Apt. 17
Maplewood, MN USA 55109
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