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[gthomas] Re: GThomas' original composition

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  • Stevan Davies
    ... Jesus was the original version, and that the ... Well, howdy Keith! Hardly anybody agrees with this point of view in the world of scholarship. One
    Message 1 of 8 , Apr 6, 1999
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      > >Hi, this is Keith!
      > > I was originally under the assumption that the Gnostic version of
      Jesus was the original version, and that the
      > historical Jesus was altered in the writing of the synoptics.

      Well, howdy Keith!
      Hardly anybody agrees with this point of view in the world of
      scholarship. One prominent view, held e.g. by Stephen Patterson,
      is that there was first a collection of "wisdom sayings" that one
      group took and added on quite a few "eschatological" sayings to
      produce Q, while another group added on quite a few "gnostic"
      sayings to produce Thomas. There's no solid reason why both
      processes of addition could not have happened ca 60 A.D.

      But one could wonder if the prevailing view of scholarship isn't
      subject to enormous "synoptic bias" which is to say that scholars,
      raised and taught since infancy about Jesus and his teachings
      find it natural to assume that what we have in the canonical texts
      is superior to what we find elsewhere. The fact that there is no
      "gnostic" Jesus in the synoptic texts (three versions of one text,
      Mark, when you get right down to it) does not rule out the
      possibility that the "gnostic" Jesus isn't more akin to the
      historical Jesus than the eschatological Jesus. Yet, while I'm
      sympathetic to that point of view personally, I must say that it
      just doesn't seem to work historically (the "gnostic" sayings in
      Thomas are just too diverse, for one thing).

      > This led
      me to believe that GThomas was originally
      > composed before the synoptics. But yesterday I was reading an article
      which said that the reason most scholars place
      > it's composition in the mid-second century (A.D.140) is specifically
      BECAUSE they consider it to be a gnostic text. Is
      > it true that many or most gnostic texts were originally composed in the
      mid-second century or later?

      Many or most gnostic texts seem to have been originally composed
      in the mid-second century or later. No doubt. But quite possibly
      some were composed earlier than that... Apoc. Adam and Eugnostos
      perhaps, also perhaps Apoc John. It's really difficult to date such
      texts especially since many of them, like Apoc John seem clearly to
      have gone through stages of editing of which the "Christian" stage is
      probably the latest.

      The idea that Thomas is "gnostic" in any second century sense
      has less going for it than people think anyhow... one has to use
      "gnostic" in a very vague sense to conclude Thomas is gnostic.
      And such arguments tend to work from the logic that sayings X Y Z
      are gnostic and therefore Thomas is gnostic as a whole. But yeah,
      if you went around the SBL convention and asked people at random
      most would probably say that since Thomas is gnostic it must be
      from the second century --- there doesn't seem to be anything
      that one can do about that.

      Steve


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    • Stevan Davies
      ... I hope somebody else will take a crack at this because find I usually have no clue. All I know is that Gnosticism is probably earlier than previous
      Message 2 of 8 , Apr 6, 1999
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        > Steve mentions the dating of some of these writings. Can you give a
        > summary, for someone without an academic background in this field of study,
        > of how scholars arrive at the likely dates of origin. Thanks. Larry.

        I hope somebody else will take a crack at this because find I usually
        have no clue. All I know is that Gnosticism is probably earlier
        than previous generations of scholars thought it was. Why?

        To start with, as far as the gnostic material goes,
        there are reports in Irenaeus from around 180 of various gnostic
        groups. Irenaeus gives a history of gnosticism as he sees it
        that generally can be dated, and describes various gnostic
        points of view within that history that can be correlated with
        actual texts or points of view within texts. For example, he
        gives a version of the Apoc John. Thus, if Irenaeus can be counted
        on to be giving an accurate historical account, reasonably decent
        dates can be guessed at. Irenaeus' account is supplemented by
        the long later account of Hippolytus and with the accounts of
        other anti-heresy writers. So far so good.

        However.... there's a big problem.

        Irenaeus and the others have a view of Gnosticism that is
        extremely polemical and Christian-centric. Fundamentally,
        "Gnosticism arose as a variety of perversions of the true Christian
        teaching." Therefore two things: 1. There is no pre-Christian
        gnosticism and possibly no non-Christian gnosticism. 2. All
        gnosticism must have arisen after the establishment of true
        Christian teaching. Thus there cannot be much first century
        gnosticism (some is ascribed to the first century guy Simon
        Magus).

        However, the Nag Hammadi texts
        contain a splendid example of a non-Christian text "Eugnostos"
        that has systematically been transformed into a Christian text
        "Sophia of Jesus Christ." The Apocryphon of John seems to
        me obviously riddled with Christian interpolations and I am
        certain that there was a version of it that existed without
        Christian references. The Apocalypse of Adam has no Christian
        references.

        If the polemical view of Irenaeus etc. is found to be false
        [i.e. "it is not the case that all Gnosticism arose as perversions
        of Christian truth"] then the dating plan given by Irenaeus etc.
        is not at all reliable. Was there then a first century or earlier
        version of e.g. the Apoc John prior to its Christianization?
        [Its Christianization is what brought it into Irenaeus' purview,
        not what brought it into being.] Yeah. Probably. But when
        we sever ourselves from the anti-heretic writers' views of things
        we find ourselves floundering around when it comes to putting
        dates on things.

        And then, as always, there's the question of definition. "What
        do you mean by Gnosticism?" [My answer: things akin to the
        Apoc John.] But there are lots of other answers (hence
        the term is virtually meaningless) that will include such things
        as the positions of Paul's opponents in Corinth and the general
        perspective found in the Gospel of John.

        Possibly Gnostic scholarship tends to work from a "law of
        increasing complexity" so that the more convoluted a gnostic
        text is the later it is (this might be called the Pistis Sophia
        factor, that text being both incredibly convoluted and considered
        quite late). It might be suggested that the more Christian a
        gnostic text is the later it is (which rather reverses the order
        implicit in Irenaeus' theory).

        Steve Patterson... you there? What's your answer to Larry's
        question?

        Steve

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      • betadavid@hotmail.com
        Re: GThomas original composition (April 6) I hope someone else takes a crack at this (SD) Dear Larry & Keith I m knew to this list Larry but I ll take a
        Message 3 of 8 , Apr 6, 1999
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          Re: GThomas' original composition (April 6)
          "I hope someone else takes a crack at this" (SD)


          Dear Larry & Keith

          I'm knew to this list Larry but I'll "take
          a crack at it."

          'Seems to me christian gnosticism is a "suburban"
          thing that grew up as what we'd more or less call
          the `middle classes` adopted christianity;
          in its various forms (or It's various forms).

          I don't exactly know why you're asking -which
          would flavour my response- but I'll say Gibbon
          (Decline & Fall) has a 'middle of the road'
          treatment of the question.

          Realize however that "middle of the road"
          -as far as christian gnosticism goes- is
          negative.

          BetaDavid

          PS. I'd date the document earlier than
          Gibbon did; within the bounds of radiometric
          dating and where debate is to be found.

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        • laurac@ix.netcom.com
          Regarding: Gnosticism arose as a variety of perversions of the true Christian ... I believe that when he ( I assume Irenaeus) says perversions of the true
          Message 4 of 8 , Apr 7, 1999
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            Regarding:
            "Gnosticism arose as a variety of perversions of the true Christian
            > teaching." Therefore two things: 1. There is no pre-Christian
            > gnosticism and possibly no non-Christian gnosticism.

            I believe that when he ( I assume Irenaeus) says "perversions of the true Christain teaching" he means perversions of Jesus' teachings. All of the gnostic type sayings in GThomas existed long before Christain gnosticism, in the Hindu philosophies. I admittedly am NOT a scholar when it comes to eastern religions but I have a friend who lives in an ashram who I sometimes visit. He and I over the past 12 years, have had many discussions about such philosophies. Most of the material in GThomas that is considered to be gnostic: passages1,2,3,4,5,6,11,17,18,22,23,24,27,29,34,42,49,50,51,56,58,67,70,75,77,81,87,91, 106,108,110,111 and 112 are all things that are common in his religion (a form of Hinduism). To them these things are not mysterious. They believe in Pantheism and the world as a projection. This is what passage 29 is about (in my opinion). This is a common part of their belief: where most people just accept that conciousness is a product of the mind (or physical brain), they find this obsurd, and believe that the body is a product of conciousness (that is; the body is a projection, an illusion that's not real). For the Pantheist, one must break free of the illusion and see that everything is really ONE. I'm NOT proposing to know whether this is true or false, only that this is what they teach.
            He claims (though I have no idea how valid it is) that in their ancient texts, it is said that Jesus spent much of his early life in India and studied such things under various sages and gurus. After becoming a master (enlightened or whatever) he returned home and became a teacher.

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          • Chris Cutler
            ... I have never heard anyone suggest that Hemes Trismegistus was Christian, not that the writings were not Gnostic. Wouldn t that make them non-Christian
            Message 5 of 8 , Apr 9, 1999
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              > Regarding:
              > "Gnosticism arose as a variety of perversions of the true Christian
              > > teaching." Therefore two things: 1. There is no pre-Christian
              > > gnosticism and possibly no non-Christian gnosticism.

              I have never heard anyone suggest that Hemes Trismegistus was Christian,
              not that the writings were not Gnostic. Wouldn't that make them
              non-Christian gnosticism?

              -------------------------
              Chris Cutler
              "Auditeur Libre"

              What liberates is the knowledge of who we were, what we became; where we
              were, whereinto we have been thrown; whereto we speed, wherefrom we are
              redeemmed; what birth is, and what rebirth." (Exc. Theod. 78.2)


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            • joe baxter
              laurac@ix.netcom.com wrote: All of the gnostic type sayings in GThomas existed long before Christian gnosticism, in the Hindu philosophies. I admittedly am
              Message 6 of 8 , Apr 9, 1999
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                laurac@... wrote:

                "All of the gnostic type sayings in GThomas existed long before Christian
                gnosticism, in the Hindu philosophies. I admittedly am NOT a scholar when it
                comes to eastern religions but I have a friend who lives in an ashram who I
                sometimes visit. He and I over the past 12 years, have had many discussions
                about such philosophies. Most of the material in GThomas that is considered
                to be gnostic:
                passages1,2,3,4,5,6,11,17,18,22,23,24,27,29,34,42,49,50,51,56,58,67,70,75,77
                ,81,87,91, 106,108,110,111 and 112 are all things that are common in his
                religion (a form of Hinduism). To them these things are not mysterious. "


                You are quite right. The sayings you refer to are frequently deemed
                mysterious or obscure by western scholars. To a Hindu or a Buddhist, the
                sayings are much less mysterious, and frequently the meaning is quite
                obvious to them.

                As for your list, I would also add 8, 15, 19, 30, 33, 37, 41, 52, 53, 59,
                61, 71, 80, 86, 88, 98, 103, 104, 113 as meaningful within Hinduism or
                Buddhism.

                "They believe in Pantheism and the world as a projection. This is what
                passage 29 is about (in my opinion). This is a common part of their belief:
                where most people just accept that consciousness is a product of the mind
                (or physical brain), they find this absurd, and believe that the body is a
                product of consciousness (that is; the body is a projection, an illusion
                that's not real)."

                While you are mostly correct here, the center of gravity of Hindu-Buddhist
                belief does not subscribe to the view that the body is an illusion. Nor does
                GThomas. Nor does Pantheism best describe their belief system. But these are
                small points.


                " He claims . . . . that in their ancient texts, it is said that Jesus spent
                much of his early life in India and studied such things under various sages
                and gurus. After becoming a master (enlightened or whatever) he returned
                home and became a teacher. "

                He is referring to the Himis scriptures. Unfortunately, only a few
                individuals testify to having seen these scriptures. For the time being they
                are unavailable. Either they have been destroyed, or they have been removed
                from circulation. The third possibility, of course, is that they never
                existed. However, several of the individuals who saw the manuscripts are
                very credible individuals. Nonetheless, an unavailable manuscript really
                doesn't support anything beyond speculation.

                Most scholars believe that much of the Hindu-Buddhist material is the
                product of the Thomasine community, as opposed to Jesus himself. This view
                is apparently based upon the fact that Hindu-Buddhist influences do appear
                in the Middle East during the first and second centuries C.E. This is
                especially the case around Alexandria. In my opinion, this view is rather
                uninsightful. First of all, most of these scholars have no grounding in
                Hindu-Buddhist practice, so how can they understand anything about the
                origin of these passages. They are beyond their depth. That is why they
                call these passages obscure. So saying 34, [ Jesus said, "If a blind person
                leads a blind person, both of them will fall into a hole."] is fulfilled.

                Secondly, most HJ scholars tend to choose safe and skeptical lines of
                dependent origination. It is extremely safe to suggest the passages came
                from later influences.

                Third, most HJ scholars have a synoptic bias. As a result, any view of Jesus
                which conflicts with the synoptic paradigm is deemed non-historical.

                Few HJ scholars have considered the possibility that the above noted
                passages could have arisen out of self-knowledge. Mostly, this is a result
                of their failure to understand a set and setting in Jesus' life out of which
                the teachings could have arisen naturally.

                Given the proper set and setting, the teachings certainly could have arisen
                naturally. Hinduism and Buddhism are religions of auto-enlightenment. The
                teachings arise through self-realization. Thus, given appropriate life
                circumstances, the indicated teachings could have arisen without "Jesus
                [having] spent much of his early life in India and [without his having]
                studied such things under various sages and gurus."

                Thus, understanding the appropriate set and setting is the key.

                With kind regards,

                Joe

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              • laurac@ix.netcom.com
                ... Keith. ... eGroup home: http://www.eGroups.com/list/gthomas Free Web-based e-mail groups by eGroups.com
                Message 7 of 8 , Apr 10, 1999
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                  Regarding:
                  >
                  > While you are mostly correct here, the center of gravity of Hindu-Buddhist
                  > belief does not subscribe to the view that the body is an illusion. Nor does
                  > GThomas. Nor does Pantheism best describe their belief system. But these are
                  > small points.
                  >
                  > I assume that you're probably right, since most of what I know about eastern beliefs comes from the my friend Mike, who lives in an ashram. He belongs to what they call Syda (or Siddha) Yoga, and stydies under the Guru Swami Chidvilasinanda, who became a guru in 1981 when Baba Muktnanda died. I have no reason to doubt you when you say that most Hindu-Buddhist DON'T subscribe to the belief that the body and world is an illusion. But his particular sect does. They believe that conciousness is all that exists, and everything else is a manifestation of it. When GThomas says things like: when the two become one, when the up becomes the same as the down, the inside the same as the outside, etc., etc., I believe that it is POSSIBLE, (though I certainly don't know) that this is a way of saying: when you let go of the illusion of separateness, you will see that there is only ONE. In Syda Yoga, this is what one has to see to become enlightened.

                  Keith.

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