Thomas Tradition in Urban Tyre?
- Frank McCoy wrote on Thursday, December 12, 2002:
> Ted Weeden wrote:http://groups.yahoo.com/group/gthomas/message/4987
> >Another probing question "to stir the pot." I have
> > been struck lately by what I can only gauge as (1)
> > an anti-Judean-cult orientation in the Gospel of
> > Thomas and (2) the existence of an ideological
> > dissonance resulting from the Gospel's high esteem or
> > James the Just vis-a-vis the Gospel's anti-Judean-cult
> > orientation
> Dear Ted Weeden:
> I suggest that there are three strata to GThomas: (1)
> Proto-Thomas--the earliest strata which reflects the
> perspective of upper class Gentile Tyrians, which was
> written c. 60 CE and which consists of GTh 2-10,
> 31-48, 61-65, and 89-99, (2) Pre-Thomas--an
> intermediate strata which reflects the perspective of
> middle to lower class Jewish Tyrians, which was
> written c. 75 CE and which consists of GTh 1, 25-30.
> 53-60, 66-79, and 105-111, and (3) Latest Strata--the
> latest strata which reflects the perspective of middle
> to lower class Gentile Tyrians, which was perhaps
> written c. 90 CE and which consists of GTh 11-24,
> 49-52, 80-88, 100-104, and 112-114. For further
> information, please see an eight part posting that
> begins here:
> It is in the two Gentile strata (i.e., Proto-Thomas(snip)
> and the Latest Strata) that one finds a rejection of
> the Law and of ritual purity. So, in this excerpt
> from your posting, all the listed examples are from
> these two strata:
Frank, first, regarding the way you categorize ethnically your proposed
strata: while one might conclude, with respect to your first and third
strata, that Gentiles would be likely to have material which rejects the Law
and ritual purity, that does not necessarily and indisputably obtain. Jews,
too, in the first century could be opposed to aspects of the Law and ritual
purity. Two Jews, who did oppose certain aspects of the Law and ritual
purity were the Galilean "Jew," Jesus, and the Jew of Tarsus, Paul.
With respect to Jesus, GTh. 64 (the Great Feast), 89 (washing the outside of
cups), 96 (the Yeast or Leaven), 99 (Jesus' dismissal of his family),
sayings which you place in your first stratum and claim as Gentile in
orientation, and GTh. 14:4 (eating whatever is served) and 14:5
(non-defilement via any food), sayings which you locate in your third
stratum and claim as Gentile in orientation, are all widely attributed in
their original form to the historical Jesus (cf., e.g., Robert Funk, Roy
Hoover and the Jesus Seminar, _The Five Gospels_, where all of these
respective sayings have been voted "pink"). Moreover, it was *Jews* who
first heard these sayings proclaimed by Jesus and passed them on to other
*Jews*, long before they likely were shared with Gentiles.
With respect to the Jew of Tarsus, Paul, there can hardly have been anyone
in the early Jesus movement more *Jewish* than he, if "pedigree" and
successful strict observance of the Law are the measures of true
Jewishness--- at least that is what he tells us in his letters. Namely: he
calls himself a Hebrew of Hebrew, a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin and
a Pharisee. He avers that he was circumcised on the eighth day, the
indelible sign of Jewishness, and that he was righteously and blamelessly
faithful to the Law (Phil. 3:5f.). You cannot be more *holy* (cf. Lev.
11:44) then that, unless you are a priest or Levite (see Bruce Malina, _The
New Testament World_, 3rd ed., 159f.).
Yet, Paul, the consummate Jew, renounced the practice of circumcision (Rms.
2:29; I Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:2-3; 6:15) and the observance of kashruth (Rms.
14:20a; I Cor. 10:25; and cf., e.g. the Antioch incident, Gal. 2::11-14),
etc., as having any salvific importance for either Gentile or Jew. He was
even disconcerted by and objected to the Jewish ritualized practices of
circumcision and kashruth because he believed such practices, in effect, set
Jews apart from the rest of the human community, and thus frustrated the
will of God for universal oneness of all people (so argued convincingly by
Daniel Boyarin, _Paul, A Radical Jew_, passim: cf., e.g., 7-10, 52ff., 106,
228)-- a theological, cultural and existential position which, from the
perspective of Boyarin, a Talmudic scholar and observant Jew (1; cf.,
228ff.), inevitably leads to "an eradication of the entire [Judaic] value
system," (32), "a dismissal of Pharisaic/biblical Judaism entirely" (111;
and see 228-260). So based on the sayings, which I have cited from the
historical Jesus and the well-known position of Paul on the Law,
circumcision and kashruth, it cannot, in my judgment, be categorically and
indisputably held, that only Gentiles would have rejected the Law and purity
rules in the first century. Thus, your contention that the first and third
strata of the Thomas tradition in the Gospel of Thomas must be of Gentile
orientation, according to your reconstruction, does not necessarily and
And now, Frank, on your locating the Thomas tradition in urban Tyre, I do
not find such an urban setting can be supported by the text of the Gospel.
You and I are, apparently, far a part in our understanding of the evolution
and *Sitz im Leben* of the Thomas tradition(s). I find the reconstruction
of the origin and evolution of the Thomas tradition leading finally to the
Gospel, as presented by Thomas scholars such as James M. Robinson, Helmut
Koester and Stephen Patterson, to be the most resonant with the text itself
and the one I find most cogent.
In their reconstruction of the "Thomas" people, for example, the Thomas
people are not a settled urban community of believers. In fact, I find
virtually little in Thomas that reflects an urban setting of upper class
people, as your posit in your earliest stratum of Thomas. But I do find
rural imagery (e.g., the sowing of seed , the harvesting of grapes
[45:1], the prophet's rejection by his own village ), which one might
expect from itinerants moving from village to village. Robinson, Koester and
Patterson's profile of the Thomas people represents "Thomas" people as
wandering, homeless (GTh 86), social radicals with a disdain for this world
and its culture. This social radicalism, as Patterson points out (_The
Fifth Gospel_, 46f.), caused the Thomas people to reject conventional family
life, to sever family relationships (GTh. 55), to venerate the poor and
hungry (GTh. 54; 69:2), to dismiss wealth as useless (GTh. 63:1-3), and to
disdain social and pietistic distinctions which separate the clean and
unclean and make purity the validating sign of human worth and
communal/cultic acceptance (GTh. 14:5). This profile--- and it could be
fleshed out more--- hardly comports with an urban lifestyle, and certainly
not that of people of urban upper class which you suggest are behind your
earliest stratum of the Thomas tradition.
As far as provenance is concerned, Robinson, Koester and Patterson do not
see the Thomas people as having migrated to the west and the city of Tyre
but to eastern Syria, where the tradition of Thomas Christianity evolved.
As Patterson (_Fifth Gospel_, 40, cf., 39f.) reconstructs the history of the
Thomas movement, he thinks it is possible that "the _Gospel of Thomas_ was
originally assembled . . . in Christian circles active in and around
Jerusalem [I am skeptical of this]. . . . Later it may have been
transported to the east, where it became the basis for the subsequent
flowering of the Thomas tradition in Syria."
But if the Thomas tradition had its initial birth with Christian itinerants
in the area of Jerusalem, why, the question might be asked, would they have
moved east instead of west to Asia Minor or Tyre, as you suggest?
Patterson reports (_The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus_, 167f.) that Jim
Robinson gives a very plausible explanation for the migration of these
itinerants eastward to Syria. Robinson surmises that if this small-town
and village movement of wandering itinerant radicals were to expand their
ministry beyond Palestine itself, it had to take into consideration
linguistic realities. Only in the eastern Syrian region, the area where
Thomas Christianity evolved, would they have found local village dialects
sufficiently similar to the ones in Palestine to make the communication of
their proclamation to potential converts to the movement easy. In the
cities, such as in Asia Minor (or Tyre in your scenario, Frank), the *lingua
franca* would have been Greek, which would have been fine for an urban
ministry. But that was not what the Thomas people were about. Their
ministry was to rural village people. To be effective in communicating in
western rural settings the itinerants would have had to master local
dialects, which would have hindered them in the advancement of their
kerygmatic cause. Thus they headed east to Syria and, therein, Thomas
Christianity was born.
> Ted, later in your post, you state:to Jesus: 'We know that you will
> > Compare now this anti-Judean-cultic orientation with
> > the following saying about James, Jesus' brother:> > "The disciples said
> > depart from us. Who (then) will rule over us?' JesusWilliam Walker at the fall meeting of the Jesus Seminar made a strong case
> > said to them: 'No matter where you came from, you
> > should go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and
> > earth came into being.'" (13).
> > Now I know of no one in the early Jesus movements
> > more supportive of and more defensive of the Judean
> > cultic heritage than James, the brother of Jesus. Just
> > ask Paul about that. How is it then that this
> > ideological dissonance exists in the Gospel of
> > Thomas: on the one hand, it is emphatically
> > anti-Judean cult and on the other, and opposite, hand,
> > it extravagantly extols James, the most noted defender
> > of the Judean cultic heritage in the early Church?
> > Any thoughts?
> While much of Acts 15 is likely the invention of Luke,
> I think that there is a historical kernel of truth,
> i.e., that there was a Jerusalem Church Council
> meeting where James decreed that Gentile believers,
> with only a few exceptions, need not obey the Law. If
> James made such a decree, this explains why, in the
> incident at Antioch, the emissaries from James tried
> to make only the Jewish believers there obedient to
> the Law.
for any historical kernel, behind Luke's construction of the proceedings of
the Jerusalem Council, being accounted for as result of Luke deriving it
directly from Gal. 2.
> So, ISTM, it is likely that James' position was thatI am not convinced that James was even that "liberal."
> Gentile believers do not have to obey the Law, but
> that Jewish believers do.
> As reconstructed above, the Gentile members of the(Snip)
> Thomas community apparently did not obey the Law, but
> the Jewish members did. That is to say, the Thomas
> community apparently acted within the limits set by
> James and, so, could apparently claim to be in
> comformity with James' decisions as respects> observance of the Law.
> Also, I think we need to take into account the
> immediately following first part of GTh 13
> I see this as an implied criticism of GMatthew, whichI would agree.
> I think was in circulation at the time of the Latest
> What is said in GTh 12 can be viewed as a put-down toWhether GTh. 12 is early Thomas (so Patterson) or late Thomas (so you), the
> the Matthean exaltation of Peter. Actually, James,
> rather than Peter, was appointed to be the head of the
> Church. Further, even if Peter was the founder of the
> Church, he was still of lesser status to James: for
> the very Cosmos came into existence for his sake.
fact of the matter is that, in my view, there remains in the Gospel of
Thomas, as it presently stands an unresolved dissonance between the anti-Law
components of the Gospel I have detailed, and, in particular, the
anti-circumcision--- i.e., physical circumcision (GTh. 53), the sine qua non
of Jewish identity, holiness, and oneness with God, as God's people (so
Boyarin, _Paul_, 36f.)--- stance, and the exalted status of James, the
consummate pro-Law authority, who alone can give to believers among Thomas
people the "imprimatur" to what is acceptable faith and praxis.