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

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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 1 of 4 , Aug 1 9:26 AM
      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 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

      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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