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Re: Is the Gospel of Thomas Gnostic?

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  • Gerry
    ... see:- ... Apologies for not getting back to you sooner, Andrew. I continue to have a great deal going on at the moment. We can certainly dispense with the
    Message 1 of 40 , Mar 1, 2007
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      --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, "smithand44" <smithand44@...> wrote:

      > (No more discussion of the Ehrman analogy in my posts.)
      > I should point out that you are creating a false dichotomy here:
      > either one interprets Thomas from a Gnostic perspective, or one
      > interprets it from some other perspective, whether academic or not,
      > which, according to you, is akin to using The Gospel of Philip to
      > justify racism. (I'm intrigued by this: who did it, and is it the
      > reference to Hebrews, or the dichotomy between men and animals that is
      > used to justify racism?) The Gospel of Thomas is not inarguably
      > Gnostic. Even the surviving manuscript tradition suggests this. One
      > copy (NCHII tractate 2) survives in an undoubtedly Gnostic context,
      > while the fragments of the other three surviving copies (pOxy 1, 654,
      > 655) are from the rubbish heaps of Oxyrhynchus, in which were found
      > other fragments of noncanonical gospels, and a great deal of other
      > material, but no Gnostic literature at all.
      > Academic views of Thomas fall into four categories as far as I can see:-
      > 1. Thomas is Gnostic.
      > 2. Thomas is not Gnostic, it belongs to some other variety of early
      > Xianity.
      > 3. Thomas is gnosticising, or moving towards a Gnostic form.
      > 4. Thomas was originally non-Gnostic, but our recensions of Thomas
      > have been gnosticised.
      > My viewpoint has previously been somewhere around 2 (Stevan Davies'
      > view) maybe with a nod towards 3. Before I got caught up with Ehrman's
      > analogy (no fault but my own, I suppose), I was actually interested in
      > trying to rethink my view of Thomas. Perhaps Thomas is in its own
      > category of Gnosticism, even if it's not Sethian or Valentinian. Or
      > perhaps early Christianity itself might be considered Gnostic. Or
      > perhaps Thomas is actually Valentinian.
      > Andrew


      Apologies for not getting back to you sooner, Andrew.  I continue to have a great deal going on at the moment.

      We can certainly dispense with the analogy then, but I think it served to illustrate the perspective that ancient Gnostics could have easily found value in the Gospel of Thomas as it survives—without seeing in it detailed cosmological descriptions or a plethora of names and terminology that are generally associated with Gnosticism.  It seems to me that such criteria are best considered in the evaluation of how "Gnostic" certain groups might have been, rather than applying such measures as strict and requisite standards by which to gauge the inherent Gnostic value of individual texts and fragments.

      For instance, one could argue that the Song of Songs is not "Jewish" on the basis that it lacks detailed laws, tenets, and names that are typically considered to be characteristic of (or even as defining) Judaism.  However, we shouldn't be surprised that many married Jews today, whose ring fingers are intimately bound to a verse from that work, might understandably find such a position laughable.

      For a tractate that is found sandwiched between such Gnostic works as the Apocryphon of John and the Gospel of Philip, and which easily lends itself to an interpretation that is not at all inconsistent with Gnostic sensibilities, it seems to me that far less of a leap is required to consider the work "Gnostic" than to support many of the other viewpoints I previously enumerated.  I realize that Davies cannot understand this, just as I cannot understand why he would resort to redefining "Gnosticism" and altering the translation of the text in order to bolster his own assertion.  IOW, while I recognize that the Gospel of Thomas is not inarguably "Gnostic," I simply contend that some positions are better argued than others. 

      Case in point, the "racist" interpretation to which I previously referred is something that doesn't simply come out of nowhere.  Its proponents actually put forth an "argument" to substantiate their views, and their methodology in some ways strikes me as LESS contrived than that used by Davies.  Does that make their overall conclusions any less absurd or offensive?  As for examples, I'm really not interested in giving a platform here for those arguments; you can conduct your own search on the Net.  Even something as simple as using the search terms "nazi" and "gnostic" yielded more references to the Gospel of Thomas just now than the passages from Philip that I had seen in the past.  While that makes it all the more relevant to our current discussion, it is no less disturbing.


    • Gerry
      ... Atheist or not, Davies impresses me as operating under the assumption that these scriptures are expected to provide information corroborating one aspect or
      Message 40 of 40 , Mar 1, 2007
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        --- In gnosticism2@yahoogroups.com, "smithand44" <smithand44@...> wrote:

        > I don't see any general "pro-orthodox" tendency in Davies' work, and
        > as far as I know he is an atheist with a strong curiosity for
        > religious traditions. In fact, he tends towards quirky viewpoints and
        > unorthodox (in the non-technical sense) positions. For instance, his
        > Jesus the Healer looked at the historical Jesus in terms of the
        > anthropology of spirit possession, and he was very interested in Earl
        > Doherty's mythic Jesus, and is fond of pointing out the contradictions
        > in the usual views of Christian origins.


        Atheist or not, Davies impresses me as operating under the assumption that these scriptures are expected to provide information corroborating one aspect or another of a literal, historical Jesus.  I think that modern scholarship is tainted by this "orthodox" perspective even when they appear to recognize the inevitable stumbling block that such a bias presents for one's objectivity.  As PMCV recently pointed out, Bart Ehrman (a self-professed agnostic) is currently involved with lectures on the Gospel of Judas (which I had the misfortune of attending back in January), and the focus of his talks is on the historical relevance this new gospel has regarding Judas AND Jesus.  I'll reiterate the question that PMCV asked:  Why?  Is it really asking so much that a little more consideration be given to the fact that Gnostic authors might have had more to convey than biographies of Jesus and his cohorts?



        > I think there is a stubborn quality in Steve's position. But in the
        > last conversation I remember between Davies and Arnal on the gthomas
        > list, Arnal wrote that, after reading King's What is Gnosticism?, he
        > finally agreed that Thomas wasn't Gnostic. Steve has changed his
        > opinion on various issues connected with Thomas--he now thinks that
        > 114 is integral to the collection and he might admit the Syrian
        > connection.


        I may be willing to recognize a Syrian "connection" as well, and I have always felt that saying 114 was integral to the collection, but such issues still do not prohibit me from viewing the overall work—as it survives—in a Gnostic context.


        > I actually didn't like Davies' translation in GTA&E, as it cuts
        > corners in places. You have identified a mistranslation and, I agree,
        > it's one that comes from his view of Thomas. Funnily enough, Davies'
        > closing comment on that is "In this saying, for a change, Thomas's
        > gospel takes the orthodox position on an issue." Steve in fact has no
        > Coptic, and worked from Mike Grondin's interlinear translation, but
        > Grondin's translation clearly indicates that OUWN2 should be
        > translated as "appeared", "revealed" or "made manifest".


        Call me a purist, but it seems to me that if an author wishes to put forth an alleged "translation" of ancient texts, he should REALLY have an understanding of the original language.  Furthermore, if what is merely his resulting "interpretation" of someone else's "translation" shows evidence of being a poor bastardization of that prior work, then this could easily be seen as one more unscrupulous step beyond theft and fraud.  It would be pretty shady indeed.


        > OTOH, I don't really see this as referring to docetism at all, and the

        > following saying, which debates whether flesh came into being because
        > of spirit, or spirit because of the body, doesn't either. Meyer, for
        > instance, connects saying 28 with the incarnation of Wisdom too.
        > Best Wishes
        > Andrew


        Perhaps we're in agreement again, Andrew, as I don't see EITHER of those sayings as "referring" to Docetism, but neither do I think that the one could "prove" an anti-docetic stance (as Davies would have us believe with his contrived "translation").

        At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'll come right out and ask if we're talking about two things here:  As I've tried to point out, my concern with GTh is the work as we know it—in Coptic—found amid a treasury of predominantly Gnostic texts.  If others are more interested in picking its bones clean in search of some elusive "original" or "core" Thomas, then more power to them.  Personally, I don't see how such conclusions could EVER be proven, short of someone actually stumbling across the missing text that certain individuals seem hell-bent on creating.  If that's what floats their boat, then more power to 'em.  If it were established today beyond a shadow of a doubt that Gnostic thought came secondarily to apocalyptic Christianity, for instance, and that the Coptic GTh is merely an elaboration by Gnostic scribes of preexisting material, is it not clear that this would really have little bearing on its relevance to Gnosticism?


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