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Thomas as Half-and-Half

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  • Mike Grondin
    Having now received and looked over Mark G s Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas s Familiarity with the Synoptics, what strikes me is that chapter 10
    Message 1 of 12 , Nov 3, 2012
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      Having now received and looked over Mark G's Thomas and the Gospels:
      The Case for Thomas's Familiarity with the Synoptics, what strikes me is
      that chapter 10 ("Secrecy, Authority, and Legitimation"), while it will probably
      receive less attention than the very strong case for Thomasine dependence on
      the synoptics in the first nine chapters, may actually be more fruitful in the
      long run. In ch. 10, Mark asks the important why-question: "Why does Thomas
      use so much synoptic material?" His answer (that it's a legitimating technique)
      may not be the whole story, but it's a good start, since it draws attention to the
      half-and-half nature of Thomas (which is, after all, suggested by the name).
      Mark's approach (which I like a lot, BTW) is to draw implications from the
      Prologue and other textual features that others largely ignore because, ironically,
      they're too obvious.
       
      So many Thomas sayings spring to mind that support the idea that the
      authors of the text were looking toward the joining of their non-canonical
      ideas with those of the developing church. Indeed, the selection of synoptic
      sayings (this being no random collection, contra Hedrick) shows what was
      important to them: two making peace with each other in one house, shouting
      from the housetops what one hears in both ears, the observation that a person
      who has drunk old wine doesn't immediately desire to drink new, etc., etc.
      Mark doesn't marshall these sayings in support of his view, but he might well
      have done so. It's also worth noting that the Thomas version of a synoptic
      saying often adds something of its own, so that there isn't a strict separation
      between old and new. One implication I think we may draw, however, is that
      it's rather unlikely that the name 'Thomas' was associated with any hypothetical
      version of the text which didn't have this half-and-half nature.
       
      Mike Grondin
    • Ian Brown
      Hi Mike (and Mark, I hope),   I have also had the opportunity to read Goodacre’s new book, and I find myself in disagreement with several of the point he
      Message 2 of 12 , Nov 5, 2012
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        Hi Mike (and Mark, I hope),
         
        I have also had the opportunity to read Goodacre’s new book, and I find myself in disagreement with several of the point he raises in chapter 10 (I apologize in advance for the length of this post).
         
        First, a caveat. I agree with Mark that historical Jesus types trying to mine Thomas for historical Jesus data have plagued studies of Thomas. In addition to this mining approach being (in my opinion) a little frivolous, it has also drawn the ire of the conservative crowd who eagerly dismiss Thomas as late and dependent in order to do away with an annoying sage-like Jesus. I also agree with Mark (although to a lesser extent) that orality has been overused and abused in theories of Thomas’ composition. Finally, I acknowledge that chapter 10 is not meant to be read on its own, but as part of the larger argument Mark constructs in the preceding 170+ pages. That being said, I am concerned that Mark’s theory (in chapter 10, anyways) as to how Thomas used the Synoptics only works if we assume Thomas used the synoptics.
         
        In terms of my disagreement, I have two general points, then an alternative theory as to Thomas’ secrecy. First, Goodacre suggests to us that many scholars have ignored the hermeneutical key in Thomas’ Incipit/saying 1 and saying 13 (see Goodacre pp 174 and 191). Many, perhaps, are guilty of this, but the two scholars who emphasize it most are oddly absent from Goodacre’s review here: Ron Cameron, “Ancient Myths and Modern Theories of the Gospel of Thomas and Christian Origins.” In Ron Cameron and Merrill P. Miller, eds. Redescribing Christian Origins. Pages 89-108. SBLSymS 28. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004, (which does appear in Goodacre’s bibliography), and William E. Arnal, “The Rhetoric of Social Construction: Language and Society in the Gospel of Thomas.” In Willi Braun ed.  Rhetoric and Reality in Early Christianity. Pages 27-48. Studies in Christianity and Judaism/ Études sur le christianisme et le judaïsme 16. Wilfred Laurier : Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2005). Both Arnal and Cameron explore the ways in which secrecy works in Thomas without Thomas copying the Synoptics. It is unfortunate that Goodacre does not addresses either of these alternative hypotheses.
         
        Second, Goodacre argues that we can see the ways in which Thomas selects Synoptic material by looking at what he does not take over, namely Thomas’ apparent disinterest in the Hebrew Scriptures. Goodacre uses Thomas 52 (where Jesus speaks of the 24 prophets of Israel as “the dead” in contradistinction to himself as the living one) as an example of how Thomas dismissed the Hebrew Scriptures. In this instance, fair enough. But this does not represent Thomas’ outright dismissal of all things Hebrew Scriptures. For example, Thomas spends a good chunk of time interpreting Genesis, most notably in sayings 83-85 (cf Elaine Pagels, “Exegesis of Genesis 1 in the Gospels of Thomas and John.” JBL 118  [1999]: 477-496). The fact that Thomas DOES use Hebrew Scriptures (albeit with his own agenda in mind) problematizes Goodacre’s argument that Thomas redactionally de-Hebrew-Scriptured several sayings (such as 20, 65, and 66). This is especially the case with Thomas 65 (a topic I believe has come up on this group before) given that the Gospel of Mark almost certainly allegorized a saying that initially had nothing to do with Isaiah 5 (thus Thomas lack of reference to Isaiah 5 is not due to Thomas removing it, but it simply not being there in the first place).
         
        Finally (again, I apologize for the length), if we are not forced to assume Thomas’ rhetoric of secrecy is related to Thomas borrowing from--but wanting to be distinct from-- the synoptic tradition, we have several options available to us to explain Thomas’ secrecy. My working hypothesis is actually not far off from Mark’s, Thomas’ rhetoric of secrecy was indeed a means of attracting people to the group using (perhaps even composing) the gospel. Thomas’ emphasis on the need to discover the interpretation of these sayings (so as not to taste death), on gaining/recognizing knowledge, on toiling, on making the correct choices, and on having the hidden and the secret revealed all, it seems to me, construct a situation in which people would want to join this Thomas group in order to attain a measure of social capital through secret knowledge. This thesis in no way requires Thomas to have borrowed from the synoptics, and better accounts for more of Thomas: Thomas contains sayings from Jesus traditions that emphasize secrecy, interpretation, etc… Finally, the authority in Thomas comes from the sayings being the sayings of Jesus the living one, NOT from the synoptics. This type of authoritative claim was quite common in contemporary philosophical schools, and there is no reason to grasp after a more complicated claim (that Thomas implicitly drew on the authority of the synoptics) when a simple solution is right in front of us (Thomas, like contemporary philosophical schools, drew on the authority of its founder, Jesus the living one).
         
        So while I think Goodacre is basically right regarding how secrecy works in Thomas, I see no need to attempt to tie Thomas’ secrecy to his familiarity with the synoptics. Indeed, this position requires that we ASSUME Thomas’ familiarity with the synoptics rather than ARGUES for it.

        Ian Brown


      • Stephen Carlson
        ... I don t quite understand the criticism of chapter 10 that it assumes rather than argues for synoptic familiarity. Didn t chapters 1-9 already do that???
        Message 3 of 12 , Nov 6, 2012
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          On Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 1:22 AM, Ian Brown <ianbrown6796@...> wrote:
          I have also had the opportunity to read Goodacre’s new book, and I find myself in disagreement with several of the point he raises in chapter 10 (I apologize in advance for the length of this post).
           
          *** Finally, I acknowledge that chapter 10 is not meant to be read on its own, but as part of the larger argument Mark constructs in the preceding 170+ pages. That being said, I am concerned that Mark’s theory (in chapter 10, anyways) as to how Thomas used the Synoptics only works if we assume Thomas used the synoptics.
           
          ***
           
          So while I think Goodacre is basically right regarding how secrecy works in Thomas, I see no need to attempt to tie Thomas’ secrecy to his familiarity with the synoptics. Indeed, this position requires that we ASSUME Thomas’ familiarity with the synoptics rather than ARGUES for it.

          I don't quite understand the criticism of chapter 10 that it assumes rather than argues for synoptic familiarity.  Didn't chapters 1-9 already do that???

          Stephen
          --
          Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke)
          Post-Doctoral Fellow, Theology, Uppsala

        • Ian Brown
          Quoting Stephen: I don t quite understand the criticism of chapter 10 that it assumes rather than argues for synoptic familiarity.  Didn t chapters 1-9
          Message 4 of 12 , Nov 6, 2012
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            Quoting Stephen: "I don't quite understand the criticism of chapter 10 that it assumes rather than argues for synoptic familiarity.  Didn't chapters 1-9 already do that???"

            Well, kinda. While Mark does argue throughout his book for Thomas' dependence, he is doing so from source and redactional critical points of view. In this way each case can be addressed on its own merits. I may not agree with, say, his argument that there is Matthean redaction in Thomas, but this does not prevent me from acknowledging possible Lukan redaction (I actually disagree with both Goodacre's chapters, but this is just for the sake of argument), or the relevance of the verbatim agreements. Thus the arguments in the other chapters, regardless of what I think about them, can stand alone. Chapter 9 doesn't actually argue FOR Thomas' dependence, but merely assumes it and therefore, unlike most of the other chapters, cannot stand alone. Again, I realize that's the purpose of the rest of the book, but were Goodacre's argument regarding Thomas' rhetoric of secrecy to be more helpful, it should be able to help argue for the main thesis of the book, not assume it.

            Ian Brown
          • Stephen Carlson
            ... Maybe it depends on what you mean by helpful, but I don t have a problem with an author s teasing out the implications of what he established in earlier
            Message 5 of 12 , Nov 7, 2012
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              On Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 3:21 PM, Ian Brown <ianbrown6796@...> wrote:
              >Again, I realize that's the purpose of the rest of the book, but
              >were Goodacre's argument regarding Thomas' rhetoric of secrecy to be more helpful,
              >it should be able to help argue for the main thesis of the book, not assume it.

              Maybe it depends on what you mean by "helpful," but I don't have a problem with
              an author's teasing out the implications of what he established in
              earlier chapters.
              --
              Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke)
              Post-Doctoral Fellow, Theology, Uppsala
            • Mike Grondin
              Hi Stephen, I also find the complaint about Mark s chapter 10 hard to fathom. One of the many passages in it that I found interesting was this: The incident
              Message 6 of 12 , Nov 7, 2012
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                Hi Stephen,
                 
                I also find the complaint about Mark's chapter 10 hard to fathom.
                One of the many passages in it that I found interesting was this:
                 
                "The incident [in L13] remains intriguing because of the forbidden 'three
                words' spoken to Thomas, and while guessing at what is implied may be
                irresistible [fn.16], the point is, of course, that the reader of the Gospel
                cannot know what was said without extra revelation. It is here that the
                Gospel of Thomas points most clearly beyond itself to an interpreter
                who will unlock the secrets of the book." (p.179)
                 
                In an earlier note, I mentioned a couple sayings that could have been
                used to bolster some of Mark's observations, and here, too, it would
                seem to have been natural to cite L21.9 ("Let there be a man of under-
                standing among you!"), but Mark doesn't do so. In fact, I don't see
                any reference at all in the text to 21.9. Mark is too careful for this to
                be an oversight, so it was probably a policy decision. I could guess
                at the reason for it, but maybe this note will prod Mark into unlocking
                this secret of his book (hint, hint).
                 
                Mike Grondin
              • Bob Schacht
                Don t these passages show that GTh belongs to the Christian Gnostic genre? Or is that a dead horse? Bob Schacht Northern Arizona University
                Message 7 of 12 , Nov 8, 2012
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                  Don't these passages show that GTh belongs to the Christian Gnostic genre? Or is that a dead  horse?

                  Bob Schacht
                  Northern Arizona University

                  At 12:51 AM 11/8/2012, Mike Grondin wrote:


                  Hi Stephen,
                   
                  I also find the complaint about Mark's chapter 10 hard to fathom.
                  One of the many passages in it that I found interesting was this:
                   
                  "The incident [in L13] remains intriguing because of the forbidden 'three
                  words' spoken to Thomas, and while guessing at what is implied may be
                  irresistible [fn.16], the point is, of course, that the reader of the Gospel
                  cannot know what was said without extra revelation. It is here that the
                  Gospel of Thomas points most clearly beyond itself to an interpreter
                  who will unlock the secrets of the book." (p.179)
                   
                  In an earlier note, I mentioned a couple sayings that could have been
                  used to bolster some of Mark's observations, and here, too, it would
                  seem to have been natural to cite L21.9 ("Let there be a man of under-
                  standing among you!"), but Mark doesn't do so. In fact, I don't see
                  any reference at all in the text to 21.9. Mark is too careful for this to
                  be an oversight, so it was probably a policy decision. I could guess
                  at the reason for it, but maybe this note will prod Mark into unlocking
                  this secret of his book (hint, hint).
                   
                  Mike Grondin


                • Stephen Carlson
                  ... Hi, Bob. With the work of Karen King and Michael Williams, I have become uncomfortable with the use and helpfulness of the word gnostic as a broad cover
                  Message 8 of 12 , Nov 8, 2012
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                    On Thu, Nov 8, 2012 at 1:30 PM, Bob Schacht <bobschacht@...> wrote:
                    > Don't these passages show that GTh belongs to the Christian Gnostic genre?
                    > Or is that a dead horse?

                    Hi, Bob. With the work of Karen King and Michael Williams, I have
                    become uncomfortable with the use and helpfulness of the word
                    "gnostic" as a broad cover term. There were a lot of groups of
                    diverse thinkings that all got lumped together under the rubric of
                    "gnostic" and it is not clear how coherent the category is.

                    I would be more comfortable with characterizations along the lines of
                    "employing the motif of secret knowledge and its restricted access
                    thereto." And I do think that comparisons can be drawn between Thomas
                    and those groups formerly known as gnostic.

                    Stephen
                    --
                    Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke)
                    Post-Doctoral Fellow, Theology, Uppsala
                  • E Bruce Brooks
                    To: GThos On: Three Things From: Bruce Mike Grondin (quoting Mark Goodacre): The incident [in L13] remains intriguing because of the forbidden three words
                    Message 9 of 12 , Nov 8, 2012
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                      To: GThos

                      On: Three Things

                      From: Bruce

                       

                      Mike Grondin (quoting Mark Goodacre): "The incident [in L13] remains intriguing because of the forbidden 'three words' spoken to Thomas, and while guessing at what is implied may be irresistible [fn.16], the point is, of course, that the reader of the Gospel cannot know what was said without extra revelation. It is here that the
                      Gospel of Thomas points most clearly beyond itself to an interpreter who will unlock the secrets of the book." (p.179)

                       

                      Bruce: Another seemingly secret “three words” are the missing answers to the three questions in Th 6 (on fasting, praying, and almsgiving). It has long been observed that the exact answers seem to be supplied in Th 14. DeConick puts both sayings into her second layer, but separated, as in the present text. For her discussion of why they are separated (she relies on “oral transmission”), see Original p87. Other opinions which she quotes conclude rather than there has been some sort of disturbance of the original order of the sayings. Th 14 does begin as though in answer to a question asked elsewhere, and of course the first part of Th 6 would be a very plausible candidate for that “elsewhere.” But a simple separation solution will not work, since in Th 6, the Three Questions are provided with an answer (if perhaps a somewhat indirect one). What then?

                       

                      One general possibility is that Th 6 was, if not an esoteric, at least a cryptic saying, and that at some later point, the person in charge of the text thought that a more direct answer was called for, and gave that direct answer in a new saying, Th 14. If so, and if the current order of Th sayings is relevant, then it would seem that the purpose and thus the nature of the text, at least as far as this particular issue goes, changed between Th 6 and Th 14.

                       

                      Bruce
                       

                    • Mike Grondin
                      ... There s actually four questions in L6A, and the answer provided in L6B ( don t do what you hate ) is suspiciously not preceded by the indirect object to
                      Message 10 of 12 , Nov 8, 2012
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                        [Bruce]:
                        > Th 14 does begin as though in answer to a question asked
                        elsewhere,
                        > and of course the first part of Th 6 would be a very plausible
                        candidate
                        > for that “elsewhere.” But a simple separation solution will not
                        work,
                        > since in Th 6, the Three Questions are provided with an answer
                        (if
                        > perhaps a somewhat indirect one). What then?
                         
                        There's actually four questions in L6A, and the "answer" provided in
                        L6B ("don't do what you hate") is suspiciously not preceded by the
                        indirect object 'to them' that we find at the outset of L14 (with no
                        interlocutors in sight). Given the carefulness which I see elsewhere in
                        the composition of CGT, my own intuition is that this was a deliberate
                        separation comprising one of the "secrets" of Thomas. But I see no
                        reason (as per Bob) to associate secrecy with Gnosticism (especially
                        not with a capital 'G'). That label seems to hide, rather than help.
                        There were mystery religions around, and we might rather look to
                        them (or something like the Rosicrucians in more modern times).
                         
                        Mike
                      • Bob Schacht
                        ... Thanks for your response. The trouble with objecting to gnostic as a broad cover term embracing diverse thinkings that all get lumped together is that by
                        Message 11 of 12 , Nov 8, 2012
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                          At 05:51 AM 11/8/2012, Stephen Carlson wrote:
                          On Thu, Nov 8, 2012 at 1:30 PM, Bob Schacht <bobschacht@...> wrote:
                          > Don't these passages show that GTh belongs to the Christian Gnostic genre?
                          > Or is that a dead  horse?

                          Hi, Bob.  With the work of Karen King and Michael Williams, I have
                          become uncomfortable with the use and helpfulness of the word
                          "gnostic" as a broad cover term.  There were a lot of groups of
                          diverse thinkings that all got lumped together under the rubric of
                          "gnostic" and it is not clear how coherent the category is.

                          I would be more comfortable with characterizations along the lines of
                          "employing the motif of secret knowledge and its restricted access
                          thereto."  And I do think that comparisons can be drawn between Thomas
                          and those groups formerly known as gnostic.

                          Thanks for your response. The trouble with objecting to "gnostic" as a broad cover term embracing diverse thinkings that all get lumped together is that by "employing the motif of secret knowledge and its restricted access thereto" would *create* the very apparent diversity that you object to. 

                          Also, another important marker is the contrast between the "Gnostics" and what emerged as normative Christianity: the latter adopted the tactic of being entirely open. No secrets, no hidden books. One of the reasons behind the development of  the canon was  that mainstream Christianity could say "here it is. It's all here. The canonical scriptures contain everything necessary and sufficient for salvation."  Part of the process of definition is identifying what it is *not*.

                          So basically we had the "open book" people vs. the "secrets" people. The very centrality of secrets is enough. Of course, arriving at that dichotomy required identification of "heresy" before the "necessary and sufficient" threshhold could be reached.

                          From this perspective, GTh was a teaser and a hook-- Not the sum and substance, but a door.

                          Bob in AZ
                        • E Bruce Brooks
                          To: GThos In Response To: Stephen Carlson On: The Term Gnostic From: Bruce Stephen: , I have become uncomfortable with the use and helpfulness of the word
                          Message 12 of 12 , Nov 8, 2012
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                            To: GThos

                            In Response To: Stephen Carlson

                            On: The Term Gnostic

                            From: Bruce

                             

                            Stephen: , I have become uncomfortable with the use and helpfulness of the word
                            "gnostic" as a broad cover term.

                             

                            Bruce: I would think that the usefulness of the word “gnostic” is precisely that it IS a broad cover term. It identifies what is common to many things (knowledge rather than virtue as salvific), and contrasts it with at least two other salvation ideas which were also current at the time: that salvation is from faith, or that it is from works.

                             

                            For more precise denotation, more precise terms are available, eg Sethian and Valentinian. Apparently there are also broad categories of Jewish gnosticism and Christian gnosticism. This seems to be a perfectly workable system of nomenclature, as long as we don’t expect our cover term to also denote one specific variety within the broad area. The generality of the term merely means, as far as I can see, that in calling the Thomas people “gnostic” we have not necessarily finished describing them.

                             

                            In Sinology, there is a sort of parallel campaign on to disuse the terms “Confucian” and “Dauist” on the plea that they are not precise, and despite the fact that those terms were used by the people of the time, in arguing with each other.

                             

                            My rejoinder to both proposals is that the term “Christian” does not lose its usefulness because it fails to specify a particular kind of Christian (Mormon, Mennonite, Presbyterian, African Methodist, Eastern Orthodox, etc). Its usefulness is precisely that it includes all of them and others, as against other large groupings (Islamic, Buddhist) which lack that particular commonality.

                             

                            Bruce

                             

                            E Bruce Brooks
                            Warring States Project

                            University of Massachusetts

                             

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