Under the Eye of the Barbeloites?
- I think it's safe to say that rarely, if ever, has a text with so few manuscriptalwitnesses been subject to such prolonged intense interest as Gos.Thom. Oh,the occasional Gospel of Judas will rise up from time to time, and the interestwill be intense for awhile, but then it'll fade away. That hasn't happened yet withour subject text, and gives no sign of doing so. I think that's because of theunusual nature of the text - half canonical, half something else. It intrigues us,and we can't leave it alone until we figure it out. Scholars with differing viewshave come at it from all directions, each giving their own idea of what that"something else" is. But let us take a moment to assess what we have.The Greek fragments are indubitably important, yet they are, well, fragmented.No saying beyond #39 is represented, and the fragments are not all from thesame manuscript; in fact, they come from three separate manuscripts, two ofwhich were rolls, not codices. As to the Coptic version, it's virtually complete,but it was prepared under the eye of folks who were at least sympathetic tothe Apocryphon of John, apparently the signature work of a group known asthe Barbeloites. How do we know this? Because Apoc.Jn. was the firsttreatise in Codex II (followed by Gos.Thom.) as well as two other tractates.We may have Gos.Thom. uppermost in mind, but the folks who gave us theNag Hammadi codices evidently did not.What difference does it make who prepared the Coptic version of Gos.Thom.?Well, it might tell us something about what they did with it - which might in turntell us something about what it looked like before they got their hands on it. Wecan, of course, compare the Coptic version with the Greek fragments, and we findsome differences there, but can we go beyond that? I believe that we can. I believethat by combining internal evidence from the Coptic ms. with evidence fromApoc.Jn., we can determine something about what was done in Coptic Thomas.As to internal evidence, I won't repeat what I've written here the last several yearsabout the structure of the prologue of Coptic Thomas, and about the use of Greekwords and names in it. These features indicate that the folks who gave us CGThwere interested in numbers. But why? I suggest it was because, even if they weren'tBarbeloites themselves, they were influenced by the Apocryphon of John, which,like Revelation, is chock-full of numbers. Indeed, the monad itself (whichcorresponds to the number one, represented in Greek by an overstroked alpha)is a connecting link with Thomas, which stresses again and again the idea of two(or several) things becoming one.Consider the numbers 105 and 210, both well-known in antiquity. The former isthe product of the first three odd prime numbers other than one (i.e., 3,5,7), whilethe latter is the product of the first four prime numbers other than one (2,3,5,7).These numbers figure into our text in the following ways (among others):1. 210 is the numeric value of IS, the nomen sacrum most used in CGTh.2. The name 'Thomas' has a Greek numerical value of 1050, i.e., 10x1053. Sacred abbreviations for 'Jesus' occur 105 times in CGTh.Is it seriously to be considered that folks whose attention to numbers would havebeen piqued by Apoc.Jn. would have been unaware of #1 and #2 - did not indeedactually bring about #3 themselves? If we ignore such number evidence (becausedealing with it is tricky business?), we'll almost certainly miss something importantand probably unique about Coptic Thomas, and in missing that, we miss theopportunity to get a little better idea about how CGTh might have differed fromother versions.Mike Grondin