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Re: [XTalk] Why use the Gospel of Thomas?

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  • Rikki E. Watts
    Bob, Thanks for the heads-up on the GThomas material. One observation though: I m fascinated as to why what Jesus said should have priority over what he did
    Message 1 of 4 , Aug 1, 2000
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      Re: [XTalk] Why use the Gospel of Thomas? Bob,  Thanks for the heads-up on the GThomas material.

      One observation though: I'm fascinated as to why what Jesus' said should have priority over what he did (if you'll pardon the observation, sounds very much like the kind of value structure we scholars who probably talk much more than act might affirm).  Couldn't one just as easily argue that Jesus' actions are vital for providing the context in which his sayings should be understood?  (I am impressed by the way in which Jesus' mighty deeds are largely marginalized in most recent studies of Jesus--perhaps this tells us more about modern authors than Jesus or his first century hearers).  Might one not argue that discarding the narrative is exactly what one might expect if someone wanted to interpret Jesus' sayings more freely, i.e. without the constraints or encumbrances of his original Jewish setting with e.g. its peculiar view of the material world?  

      It seems to me that rather than arguing from form to date (as you seem to suggest, i.e. isolated sayings, therefore earlier) that the form depends to a considerable degree on the author's perception of Jesus, and that this connection (form-perception) probably tells us very little if anything about the date of the material.  In other words, the form of GThom might only tell us that the author's perception of Jesus was such that his deeds mattered little, but nothing as to the date of the material.  On the other hand, might one be able to argue that the very stripping away of a narrative context suggests a non-Jewish provenance and therefore perhaps a later date?  

      Sincerely
      Rikk Watts

      From: Bob Schacht <r_schacht@...>
      Reply-To: crosstalk2@egroups.com
      Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2000 21:53:56 -0700
      To: crosstalk2@egroups.com
      Subject: Re: [XTalk] Why use the Gospel of Thomas?


      At 03:43 AM 8/1/00 +0000, Brian Tucker wrote:
      We hashed this issue pretty thoroughly back on the old Harper-Collins CrossTalk, when Stevan Davies was still actively participating. If you haven't visited his GThomas web site, you oughta. You'll find most of your answers there. You might also consult Funk, et al.'s The Five Gospels, where you will find a useful summary of answers to the question in your subject line.

      1. If it contains no narratives on the life, death and resurrection
      of
      HJ.

      This is considered by many to be a virtue, not a fault. There is a theory that a record of the "sayings" of Jesus would be earlier than any narrative. This theory rests on the assumption that what was important about Jesus was what he said, rather than what he did. Part of this theory is that a narrative structure offers the temptation to make the sayings fit the structure. If no narrative, then no temptation to tamper with the saying to make it fit into the narrative.

      2. Isn't judgment difficult concerning the value of the sayings?

      As opposed to what? Sure, its difficult. Do you think it would be any easier to make judgments about narrative frames and structures? Or that figuring out what Jesus did would be easier than figuring out what he said?

      3. Isn't their distance from Jesus, theologically and temporally
      rather significant?

      This assumes that GThomas is late. This assumption is in dispute. For details on the dating of Thomas, see Davies' web site. And how do you propose to measure the theological distance of Thomas from Jesus? Some would claim that the distance is actually much shorter. For example, as you suggest below, Jesus is never called Christ in GThomas.

      4. Must a saying that reflects a gnosticizing tendency be rejected?

      Not necessarily, but it depends on what you mean by a "gnosticizing tendency." Some people find as many "gnosticizing tendencies" in Paul, and maybe John, as in GThomas. But then, we really don't know much about what gnosticism looked like in the First Century. At least there's not much of a consensus on that subject. If GThomas is as early as some claim, then the term "gnosticizing" is suspect. Again, I refer you to Davies' web site on the so-called "gnosticizing" tendencies of GThomas.  Does GThomas have weird stuff in it that is not found in the synoptic gospels, with which it otherwise has many affinities? Yes. But weirdness is not the same as gnosticism. Is GThomas more "gnostic" than Paul?

      5. Does the lack of chritological titles in GTh point out that HJ
      didn't claim them for himself?

      Possibly, but that argument can be made on other grounds, too. Some people cite the lack of Christological titles in GTh as evidence that GThomas is early.

      6. If we filter out a gnosticizing tendency are we left with evidence
      of itinerant charismatics preaching about HJ?

      Please develop this thesis. (1) how can you tell a "gnosticizing tendency" when you see one? (2) How do you arrive at the conclusion of itinerant charismatics preaching about HJ from what remains in GThomas?  Are you withholding the reference to some source that you've read about this idea?

      7. What does it say about the social structure of EC?

      I suppose you're heading in the direction of  comparison with the Didache model of the social structure of EC? This would be an interesting hypothesis, but you will have to develop it for us.

      This is all off the top of my head, and I haven't checked anything, so caveat lector.
      And did I mention that if you're really interested in this subject, you have *GOT* to visit and spend some time at Davies' GThomas web site?

      Bob
      Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
      Northern Arizona University
      Flagstaff, AZ




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    • Rick Hubbard
      Brian Tucker wrote: [Why use the Gospel of Thomas] Brian, Perhaps it would be helpful if you could elaborate on the subject of your post so that your questions
      Message 2 of 4 , Aug 1, 2000
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        Brian Tucker wrote: [Why use the Gospel of Thomas]

        Brian,

        Perhaps it would be helpful if you could elaborate on the subject of
        your post so that your questions can be cogently answered. In other
        words, what do you mean by the phrase, "Why use the Gospel of Thomas?"
        Use it for what?

        If you mean to say, "Why use GThom to help reconstruct the origins of
        Christianity?", then that statement is something quite different from
        saying, "Why use GThom to reconstruct the origins of Christianity....
        because what it contributes to that reconstruction does not cohere with
        popular notions about early Christianity's characteristics?"

        I'm not sure if your question is better stated by either the former or
        the latter reformulations in the preceding paragraph (or perhaps neither
        do so correctly). In any case however, GThom is an important literary
        artifact from the earliest period of Christianity's history and so it
        deserves to be treated in the same manner as other literature with which
        it was contemporary.

        Brian Tucker wrote: [Why use the Gospel of Thomas]

        > 1. If it contains no narratives on the life, death and resurrection
        > of
        > HJ.

        It may well be that GThom is a witness to an entirely independent
        tradition of early Christianity in which "narratives on the life, death
        and resurrection" of Jesus were simply ignored. In that case, the
        absence of those narratives seems to have no particular implication.

        Brian Tucker wrote:
        >
        > 2. Isn't judgment difficult concerning the value of the sayings?
        >
        The task of judging the "value" of the sayings preserved in GThom is
        perhaps difficult but, as your question is stated, it is ambiguous. Do
        you mean to ask whether the sayings are "authentic" representations of
        the actual words of Jesus? Or, do you mean to ask whether those sayings
        are relevant to the (dominant ?) contemporary understanding of Jesus for
        the community of faith? If it is the former question you intend to ask,
        then the answer is that, "Yes, a few of the sayings do exhibit
        characteristics of what some scholars believe to have been things that
        Jesus said." If it is the latter question you meant to put forth, then
        the answer is infinitely more complex. In some modern Christian
        communities, the logia of GThom are routinely anathamatized because they
        sometimes cut directly across the grain of confessional faith and
        traditional "Jesus worship." Conversely, in other faith communities,
        GThom occasions no particular difficulty at all. From a historical
        perspective, the sayings may be regarded as unique articulations which
        are useful evidence for the task of understanding the origin and
        development of Christianity.

        Brian Tucker wrote:
        >
        > 3. Isn't their distance from Jesus, theologically and temporally
        > rather significant?

        The question of theological and historical distance of GThom from Jesus
        remains unresolved, if I correctly interpret the conclusions of modern
        scholarship. On one hand, there is no single date for the composition of
        GThom that represents broad consensus. Some scholars, (e.g., Kee) argue
        that GThom may be a very early document, perhaps earlier than Mark.
        Others (e.g., Fitzmyer) argue for a second century date (120 CE+). In
        the midst of all this are the published conclusions of the Jesus Seminar
        which identifies *portions* of the GThom saying collection as probably
        original to Jesus, but in the same collection are sayings attributed to
        Jesus which clearly reflect post-Easter concerns of the early church and
        that are therefore fabrications. So, in a word or two, it is difficult
        to say with certainty just how far GThom is historically removed from
        Jesus.

        The question about theological distance of GThom from Jesus is an even
        thornier one. Just what exactly was Jesus' theology? More importantly,
        if that theology "of" Jesus *can* be reconstructed how does it contrast
        with the "theology" of GThom (and for that matter, with the "theology"
        of the intracanonical gospels)? How is it possible to say, without
        equivocation, that the theology *of* Jesus is not more accurately
        reflected in GThom than in the intracanonical gospels?

        Brian Tucker wrote:
        >
        > 4. Must a saying that reflects a gnosticizing tendency be rejected?
        >

        The person who coined the term "gnosticizing" should be consigned to an
        eternity in English 101 classes (not you of course Brian). In my
        opinion, the word is inherently pejorative and does nothing other than
        make the statement, "This does not agree with the orthodox view of
        Christianity." It is therefore a handy shibboleth with which defenders
        of orthodoxy can demean and berate what may have been authentic
        expressions of religiosity during the early centuries of the common era.
        Therefore, the answer to the question, "Must a saying that reflects a
        gnosticizing tendency be rejected?" is (again, in my opinion) this:
        sayings attributed to Jesus in GThom which signal the presence of
        traditions of gnosis should not be judged any differently than sayings
        which reflect the concerns of the primitive post-mortem church (which
        ultimately became the dominant position of orthodoxy). In other words,
        these "gnosticizing tendencies" are nothing other than expressions of a
        strand of Chrsitianity which happens not to have survived.

        Brian Tucker wrote:
        >
        > 6. If we filter out a gnosticizing tendency are we left with evidence
        > of itinerant charismatics preaching about HJ?
        >
        The question about "filtering out gnosticizing tendencies" assumes that
        one has at one's disposal a fair and unbiased set of criteria by which
        "gnosticizing tendencies" can be legitimately identified. Whether such
        criteria exist, and whether they can be impartially applied to the text
        is IMO, doubtful (for the reason I expressed above). But if it were
        possible, then the only response I can muster to the last part of your
        question is, "I have no idea." What do you think? And why?

        Brian Tucker wrote:
        >
        > 7. What does it say about the social structure of EC?
        >
        It is surely a matter of coincidence that I just finished reading S.
        Patterson and J. Robinson's, _The Fifth Gospel_ (Trinity Press, 1998)
        where Patterson adresses very lucidly the precise question you ask as it
        relates to GThom. I'll not take the time to rehearse what he says, but I
        recommend that you read it at your earliest convenience. The book also
        addresses most of the other questions you pose for us in a far better
        way than I have been able to do.

        Thanks for your provocative questions and my apology for this
        over-length (but still incomplete) response.

        Best Regards,

        Rick Hubbard
        Humble Maine Woodsman
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