Re: [XTalk] Why use the Gospel of Thomas?
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?
From: Bob Schacht <r_schacht@...>
Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2000 21:53:56 -0700
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 resurrectionHJ.
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 temporallyrather 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 HJdidn'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?
Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
Northern Arizona University
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- Brian Tucker wrote: [Why use the Gospel of Thomas]
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 resurrectionIt 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:
>The task of judging the "value" of the sayings preserved in GThom is
> 2. Isn't judgment difficult concerning the value of the sayings?
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:
>The question of theological and historical distance of GThom from Jesus
> 3. Isn't their distance from Jesus, theologically and temporally
> rather significant?
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
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:
>The person who coined the term "gnosticizing" should be consigned to an
> 4. Must a saying that reflects a gnosticizing tendency be rejected?
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:
>The question about "filtering out gnosticizing tendencies" assumes that
> 6. If we filter out a gnosticizing tendency are we left with evidence
> of itinerant charismatics preaching about HJ?
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:
>It is surely a matter of coincidence that I just finished reading S.
> 7. What does it say about the social structure of EC?
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.
Humble Maine Woodsman