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Re: [GTh] review of WATSA booklet on Thomas, part 3 of 3

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  • Mike Grondin
    I m happy to join in the praise of Chris book and Tim s review of it. I d never heard of the WATSA series before, but the list of other books in the series
    Message 1 of 11 , Apr 12, 2012
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      I'm happy to join in the praise of Chris' book and Tim's review of it.
      I'd never heard of the WATSA series before, but the list of other books in the
      series looks pretty interesting. If they're as well done as Chris' contribution to
      the series, they'd be worth having. One can get a very good overview of the
      subject in a short read, and for minimal cost. Everyone here should certainly
      have a copy, and it seems suitable for intro classes as well. I particularly like
      Chris' system of classifying the books in his bibliography according to whether
      they're (1) "accessible to the non-specialist", (2) "written on an academic level
      but accessible to the nonspecialist", or (3) "intended for those with background
      knowledge of early Christian literature and the requisite research languages."
      It must have taken a lot of work for Chris to do this survey, and I hope he
      knows that those of us who read it appreciate that.
       
      I gather that Chris' experience with this publication wasn't the best. It was a very
      long time from the initial writing, and then suddenly everything was hurry-up. As
      a result, a couple minor errors escaped notice, and I'm partially responsible for that,
      inasmuch as I went over the thing in advance. The errata I notice now are these:
       
          On p.6, there's some miswording about the P.Oxy. fragments. They're all
      called 'scrolls' there, but P.Oxy.1 is from a codex, and in any case they're only the
      equivalent of a page or so from three manuscripts, certainly not the whole thing.
          On p.114, under "English Translations", the translation in Robinson's NHL is
      attributed to Helmut Koester and Thomas O. Lambdin. Actually, the translation
      is Lambdin's. Koester just wrote the intro.
       
      There may be other little things as well, but this isn't anything to count against
      Chris' book, since just about every publication has some errata. (Including the
      mystery novel I'm reading - now that really gets my goat! And I'm sure you
      all know how annoying it is when someone takes your goat.)
       
      Mike G.
    • Judy Redman
      And now that I m not at work For what it s worth, while I continue to see in Thomas an expression of wisdom literature, I would personally no longer
      Message 2 of 11 , Apr 12, 2012
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        And now that I’m not at work
        For what it's worth, while I continue to see in Thomas an expression of wisdom literature, I would personally no longer characterize it as "Gnostic." Yes, I know I said that in print, but it was a long time ago. Thanks to Michael Allen Williams and Karen King, I'm sure of the cogency of "Gnostic" as a classifier generally. And I think that I (and others) have tended to use "Gnostic" as a label for anything in Thomas that seems obscure. These days, I am MUCH more in the Platonist camp.

        [Judy:] Bill – do you actually mean “I’m *not* sure of the cogency of “Gnostic” as a classifier generally”?

        If so, I tend to agree with Birger Pearson, who doesn’t want to ditch the term altogether, but suggests that it needs a much tighter definition than has been generally used. I think that people have tended to do as you say, or to say that anything that suggest that ‘knowing stuff’ is important in getting into heaven is Gnostic.

        Pearson (Ancient Gnosticism Traditions and Literature. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007, 12-15) says that Gnosticism is characterised by:

        ·         The idea that saving gnosis comes by revelation from a transcendent realm, mediated by a revealer who has come from that realm to waken people to a knowledge of God and of true human self

        ·         A dualistic way of looking at God – there is a super-transcendent supreme God utterly alien to the world and a lower deity who is responsible for creating and governing the world

        ·         A dualistic way of looking at human beings – true human self is also utterly alien to the world – an immaterial divine spark imprisoned in a material body

        ·         The universe in which we live is a prison in which the true human self is shackled. The goal of the Gnostic is to be saved from the cosmic prison and to be restored to the realm of light from which it originated

        ·         Mythopoeia – construction of elaborate myths through which revealed gnosis is transmitted

        Clearly Thomas doesn’t fit this definition, but the Gospel of Judas does.

        >Alexi Siverstev [Jewish Scholar at DePaul, Chicago] sees Thomas as Wisdom literature fitting into the context of 2nd – 3rd century Syriac Christian literature, instead of Gnostic.

        OK, this is FUNNY. The article in question, described here, if it's the one I think it is, originated as a seminar presentation for a grad class of mine way back in 1998. The presentation was given on the last day of class, so I brought beer to class. Also, I had just gotten back from the AAR-SBL when it was in Orlando, and had brought a pair of Mickey Mouse ears to class. So Alexej put on my mouse ears, cracked open a beer, went to the front of the room and gave, more or less off the top of his head, the best seminar presentation I have ever seen. I insisted he publish the results . . . and he did. It's AWESOME to see him make an appearance on this list.

        [Judy:] J


        Completely agreed on this point in general, but do want to point out that I tend to view Thomas as an early document, but do not regard it as a useful source for the historical Jesus.

        [Judy:] This sounds interesting. Can I ask why? I mean, obviously, I can *ask*, but can you give a brief summary of your reasoning?


        Judy

      • William Arnal
        Hi Judy: [Judy:] Bill – do you actually mean “I’m *not* sure of the cogency of “Gnostic” as a classifier generally”? Yes, this is exactly what I
        Message 3 of 11 , Apr 12, 2012
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          Hi Judy:

          [Judy:] Bill – do you actually mean “I’m *not* sure of the cogency of “Gnostic” as a classifier generally”?

          Yes, this is exactly what I mean. Sorry about the typo.

          And yes, there is the argument that we can retain "gnosticism" if we clarify and narrow it (a position also taken by David Braake in a recent book). The kind of criteria mentioned by Pearson, it seems to me, rely on hyperbole (God must be "utterly alien," not just "alien" ; the universe is a "prison", not just a bad place; and so on) -- failing that hyperbole, "Gnosticism" ends up just being a statement of Platonic, Jewish, and Christian truisms: God is transcendent, this world is not perfect, we can make contact with the divine through some form of discipline (intellectual or otherwise), etc. I also find the mythopoeisis statement interesting: so are non-Gnostic Christian myths not "elaborate" or not "constructed"? Or is "myth" not a property of non-heretical Christians? Hmmm.

          But whether one buys the argument or not, as you note, it is clear that a more sharply (and narrowly) delineated "gnosticism" does NOT include Thomas.

          [Judy:] This sounds interesting. Can I ask why? I mean, obviously, I can *ask*, but can you give a brief summary of your reasoning?


          Well, it seems to me that Thomas has a very coherent ideological position that is both dictated by its authors' interests, and so utterly ordinary that it fails to give us any evidence for any distinctive historical individual. Hence the text is both slanted by its agenda, as are all the canonical gospels as well, and fails to convey anything of interest at the same time. I also happen to think that chasing after the HJ is a waste of time, and tends to poison discussions of what would otherwise be fairly straightforward issues, by investing them with an ideological weight that they might not otherwise have. That said, IF Thomas is independent of the synoptics (which is an issue that need not correlate directly with date: it could be late and still independent), then its versions of saying can be compared to those in the synoptics to get a sense of the development of sayings traditions. But I doubt that'll get us to Jesus.


          cheers,

          Bill


          Recent Activity:
            Gospel of Thomas Homepage: http://users.misericordia.edu/davies/thomas/Thomas.html
            Coptic-English translation: http://www.gospel-thomas.net/x_transl.htm
            Related Biblioblogs:
            PEJE IESOUS (Chris Skinner) http://pejeiesous.com
            Judy's Research Blog (Judy Redman) http://judyredman.wordpress.com
            The Forbidden Gospels (April DeConick) http://forbiddengospels.blogspot.com
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          • Judy Redman
            Hi Bill [Judy:] Bill - do you actually mean I m *not* sure of the cogency of Gnostic as a classifier generally ? Yes, this is exactly what I mean. Sorry
            Message 4 of 11 , Apr 12, 2012
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              Hi Bill

              [Judy:] Bill – do you actually mean “I’m *not* sure of the cogency of “Gnostic” as a classifier generally”?

              Yes, this is exactly what I mean. Sorry about the typo.

              [Judy:] J

              And yes, there is the argument that we can retain "gnosticism" if we clarify and narrow it (a position also taken by David Braake in a recent book). The kind of criteria mentioned by Pearson, it seems to me, rely on hyperbole (God must be "utterly alien," not just "alien" ; the universe is a "prison", not just a bad place; and so on) -- failing that hyperbole, "Gnosticism" ends up just being a statement of Platonic, Jewish, and Christian truisms: God is transcendent, this world is not perfect, we can make contact with the divine through some form of discipline (intellectual or otherwise), etc. I also find the mythopoeisis statement interesting: so are non-Gnostic Christian myths not "elaborate" or not "constructed"? Or is "myth" not a property of non-heretical Christians? Hmmm.

              [Judy:] I summarised several pages of Pearson’s argument – it is more nuanced than my summary. He delineates ways in which what he characterises as Gnosticism parts company with orthodox Christianity.

              But whether one buys the argument or not, as you note, it is clear that a more sharply (and narrowly) delineated "gnosticism" does NOT include Thomas.

              [Judy:] This sounds interesting. Can I ask why? I mean, obviously, I can *ask*, but can you give a brief summary of your reasoning?

              Well, it seems to me that Thomas has a very coherent ideological position that is both dictated by its authors' interests, and so utterly ordinary that it fails to give us any evidence for any distinctive historical individual. Hence the text is both slanted by its agenda, as are all the canonical gospels as well, and fails to convey anything of interest at the same time. I also happen to think that chasing after the HJ is a waste of time, and tends to poison discussions of what would otherwise be fairly straightforward issues, by investing them with an ideological weight that they might not otherwise have. That said, IF Thomas is independent of the synoptics (which is an issue that need not correlate directly with date: it could be late and still independent), then its versions of saying can be compared to those in the synoptics to get a sense of the development of sayings traditions. But I doubt that'll get us to Jesus.

              [Judy:] Yes, I agree entirely. I am not sure whether I think that the gospels are more or less likely to get us to the historical Jesus than other contemporary writings are to get us to the historical Caesar etc – the gospel writers clearly had an ideological agenda that slants their writings, but it’s difficult to tell whether it slanted their writing more than the agendas of people who wrote about the lives of non-religious figures.

              While I think that it is *possible* that somewhere in the various gospels we might have a faithful, accurate account of the life and teachings of Jesus, there is no way of being sure what it is because we simply don’t have access to the right kind of material. Unless someone develops the ability to travel through time, all that we have in the way of guarantees of accuracy are the faith claims of practising Christians. As a practising Christian, I happen to believe the faith claims, but I am also very aware that they do not constitute historical proof.

              Judy

              __

            • Jordan Stratford
              ... According to Pearson s criteria, it most certainly does – particularly on the soteriological front. Gnosis saves is hard to avoid in Thomas. Jordan On
              Message 5 of 11 , Apr 12, 2012
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                On 2012-04-12, at 4:04 PM, Judy Redman wrote:

                But whether one buys the argument or not, as you note, it is clear that a more sharply (and narrowly) delineated "gnosticism" does NOT include Thomas.

                According to Pearson's criteria, it most certainly does – particularly on the soteriological front.  "Gnosis saves" is hard to avoid in Thomas.

                Jordan
              • Judy Redman
                Jordan said: On 2012-04-12, at 4:04 PM, Judy Redman wrote: [Judy:] Actually, that was Bill agreeing with me. J But whether one buys the argument or not, as you
                Message 6 of 11 , Apr 12, 2012
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                  Jordan said:

                  On 2012-04-12, at 4:04 PM, Judy Redman wrote:

                  [Judy:] Actually, that was Bill agreeing with me. J



                  But whether one buys the argument or not, as you note, it is clear that a more sharply (and narrowly) delineated "gnosticism" does NOT include Thomas.

                   

                  According to Pearson's criteria, it most certainly does – particularly on the soteriological front.  "Gnosis saves" is hard to avoid in Thomas.

                   

                  [Judy:] Well, yes, and there is a significant ascetical emphasis, but no evidence of the cosmogeny that has the earth created and overseen by a secondary divine being. While I agree that Thomas is a text that could well have been used by Gnostics, it is also amenable to use by people with other emphases, whereas Judas has the unmistakably Gnostic cosmogeny.

                   

                  Judy

                • chaptim45
                  Chris, I found it useful indeed. When I was in seminary (graduated 1990) the Gospel of Thomas was not even mentioned. And since the textbook we had there for
                  Message 7 of 11 , Apr 13, 2012
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                    Chris,

                    I found it useful indeed. When I was in seminary (graduated 1990) the
                    Gospel of Thomas was not even mentioned. And since the textbook we had there for New Testament studies was by Luke Timothy Johnson there was no mention of the Jesus Seminar, either. So, I've always felt there were some big holes in my knowledge concerning these areas.

                    Ever since I ran across Mike Grondin's Gospel of Thomas site several
                    years ago, I've become very interested in Thomas and Thomasine studies. Your book has been very helpful to me in showing me the breadth and variety that exists in the current scholarship on the Gospel of Thomas.

                    Honestly, I think you brought it all together very succinctly. I
                    especially appreciated the way you were to discuss all the many theories equally and quite fairly and with respect.

                    So thank you for publishing this book for me and the many, many others
                    of folks who want to learn what's going on in Thomasine scholarship.

                    Tim Staker
                    Chaplain, Indianapolis, IN


                    --- In gthomas@yahoogroups.com, "Christopher W. Skinner"
                    <christopherwskinner@...> wrote:
                    >
                    > Tim, many thanks for reviewing the book in this forum.
                    > I hope you found it useful.
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