10385RE: [GTh] Consistency and Accretion in Thomas (Lu Mu-gung)
- Nov 3, 2012
To: GThos (WSW)
In Response To: Mike Grondin
On: sTh 1-12 as a Text (Lu Mu-gung)
Some small odds and ends.
Bruce (before, responding to Mike’s thought that sTh 1-12 were too small to be a text): I don’t think we are in a position to tell the ancients how to write, or how long.
Mike (replying) Really, this remark is irrelevant, beneath you, and best forgotten.
Bruce (now): Whether something is above or beneath some modern person is what is irrelevant. What is relevant is whether the idea speaks to the situation, in this case the methodological situation. I take it as given (and I invite Mike, on reconsideration, to agree) that we know antiquity only as we observe antiquity. We cannot posit it, or assign limits to it, a priori. The next thing we observe may be the one which goes outside our previous experience. What we then do, I should imagine, is to add it to our experience. I think the implication is that brevity (in this case) is no bar to reality, including the reasonableness of a proposal about possible reality.
In the ancient China situation, as I may have mentioned somewhere, we do not need to conjecture about sayings texts; we are running over with sayings texts, or typologically cognate accumulations. But we also have examples of independent small units. This is one thing that makes ancient China interesting methodologically, for anyone working with such material.
One of these independent small units, archaeologically recovered in 1993 from the tomb of the Tutor to the Heir Apparent of Chu (one of the Warring States; the tomb date is somewhere in the 0280’s; the terminus post quem non is 0278), consists simply of an independent story, which has been given the title Lu Mu-gung Wvn Dz-sz (Prince Mu of Lu asks Dz-sz). The story takes only 8 bamboo strips to write, of which the 8th is mostly blank. The 7th has been damaged, but the whole, when complete, would have come to about 150 words. The moral of the story is that the best minister is not the one who agrees, but the one who protests the ruler’s dubious decisions: the seemingly disloyal minister is the best minister. The thing is simply a paragraph. But there is no sign, either in that text or in the rest of the Tutor’s coursepack (which contained quite a range of stuff, including four sets of collected miscellaneous sayings, culled from what we can show were different sources) that this little story was ever part of anything else. Dz-sz is mentioned severel times in the Mencius text (also early 03c), but none of those passages evokes the same theme as this piece, and for that matter, none of them is literarily a complete anecdote. It is then unlikely that this separate Dz-sz piece was detached from a now lost earlier version of the Mencius. (Incidentally, the average unit in the Mencius text is slightly over 150 words, so if it *had* been once incorporated in that text, it would not have been anomalous as to length). The Lu Mu-gung piece was simply one more item in the Tutor’s curriculum. Since we know he had edited some of his materials down (one of them is the earliest physical witness to the Dau/Dv Jing, part of which the Tutor had reduced to about half its length), and on the other hand was content with sayings assembled into series, it stands to reason that he could have incorporated this little piece into a series if he had wanted to. On the evidence, he felt no such need.
There are writings which expound the same moral as the Lu Mu-gung piece. Remonstrance is one of the great themes of elite writing in the classical period. But there are also, verifiably, short ones, and they seem to do their job very well.
[There is a joke on this subject in WSP v1. We had posited a very short original length for what is now Analects 8. A colleague objected, partly on grounds that our reconstruction was too short. He proposed an alternate reconstruction. I confess that we took a certain pleasure in pointing out that his reconstruction was even shorter than ours].
As for Mediterranean antiquity, I had mentioned Obadiah as an immediately relevant example of a short but independent text.
Mike: But Obadiah is a prophetic proclamation which has a compositional unity
not apparent in L1-12. At the end of Obadiah, I would suggest that one
doesn't find oneself asking "Is that all there is?" In any case, if that's the
sole example of a short biblical text, your suggestion remains unlikely.
Bruce: One swallow may not make a summer, as the proverb says, but it certainly counts heavily against a winter hypothesis. I think Mike should consider it. Obadiah has a unity; it keeps up a certain level of hate against Israel’s dispossessors, and it ends with a resounding last line. So far so good. Agreement all round.
But as for no compositional unity being apparent in sTh 1-12, there may be room for two opinions. I had in fact thought to demonstrate the contrary. But on mature reflection, having written it out last night, I am going to hold off. I like it, and I have scheduled it instead for a future volume of the Project’s journal.
I end by saying that if anyone present is interested in the analytical possibilities for sThos that may lie in this direction, they are welcome to get in touch with me. There is work, and for that matter journal space, for more than two hands.
Separately, from the tenor of Mike’s response to my sTh 1-12 proposal, I get the impression that this is not an idea which has been proposed before. I get the same impression from the commentaries on sThos 12,including the latest two or three. If I am missing something, I would appreciate being told of the precedent. Journal policy, like my own, is to acknowledge precedents and precursors, even if they came to nothing at the time.
Thanks in advance,
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst